The Cahaba lily, named for the Cahaba River, is an aquatic plant native to the major river systems of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. In Alabama, its best-known natural habitat is the shoals of the Cahaba River. The lily is known for the striking beauty of its three-inch-wide white flowers. Each flower’s six petals surround a thin corona, which connects the lower portions of the stamens. The lily’s scientific name, Hymenocallis coronaria, translated as “beautiful crown-like membrane,” accurately depicts these characteristics.
The lily requires a very specialized habitat of swift-flowing water over rocks and an open canopy. The plant’s bulbs and seeds spend the winter buried in the rocky riverbed. Leaves begin to emerge above the water line in mid-April. Flowering commences in mid-May, reaching its peak in late May and early June. The showy flowers attract a variety of pollinators as well as large numbers of canoers and kayakers during the spring blooming period.