Expert: Cahaba lilies are blooming a little late this year. Don’t miss nature’s greatest month-long show

Cahaba Lily
Cahaba lilies at Cahaba River Park in Shelby County. Photo by Jim Schmalz for Bham Now

It is the most anticipated question every May: have the Cahaba lilies started blooming?  According to Randy Haddock, retired Field Director at Cahaba River Society, the lilies are making their annual appearance a little late in 2022.

Haddock is not sure why the lilies are late this year. It could be that water temperatures have been low because of cool nighttime temps. He is stumped. 

“There’s variability and timing of all kinds of things. It really depends on what the plant uses as an environmental cue for blooming and a lot of plants use daylength but other plants use temperature. This sort of inclines me to think that the temperature may have more to do with blooming timing for the lilies.” 

When asked if blooming late this year is a sign of problems for the lily, he emphatically said no (and added 4 additional nos for good measure). He told us the lilies are fine. They are just not blooming robustly as in years past at the start of the month-long 2022 lily season.

Cahaba Lilies Primer

Screen Shot 2019 01 27 at 6.01.18 AM Expert: Cahaba lilies are blooming a little late this year. Don’t miss nature’s greatest month-long show
Bham Now’s Pat Byington with his daughter Whitney Byington at the Cahaba River in 2012.

If you are new to Birmingham, here is a primer on one of Alabama’s most iconic flowers.

The Cahaba lily is an aquatic flowering plant which grows only in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. A type of spiderlily, the Cahaba lily is noted for its three-inch-wide white flowers. The lily requires swift-flowing water over rocks, lots of sun and is restricted to shoal areas at or above the fall line

The rule of thumb for lily-lovers everywhere in the Birmingham Metro area is the lilies start appearing from Mothers Day to Fathers Day.

Once you see the lilies, you’ll never forget them.

It is pretty awesome to see the lilies spread out across a nice big wide river. These shoals run for some cases, a half a mile down the length of the river — and you’ve got lilies on all of that. It’s a spectacular view,” added Haddock.

Where to See the Lilies

Lily Byington
Cahaba Lily at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in 2020. (Pat Byington/ Bham Now)

There are two local places with public access where people can see the lilies.

By far the best place to either canoe or “wade-in” the river to experience the lilies is at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in the city of West Blocton in Bibb County.

Here are the directions:

About 40 miles southwest of Birmingham, the National Wildlife Refuge is only six miles from West Blocton, Alabama.

  • Take I-59 South from Birmingham for about 30 miles to the Hwy 5 West Blocton/Centreville exit (Exit 97).
  • Hwy 5/Hwy 11 is 4-lane for about 3 miles where Hwy 5 turns abruptly south (to the left) as a 2-lane. Watch for this turn!
  • Travel about 8 miles south on Hwy 5 to a blinking yellow light. Turn left (onto County Road 24) to West Blocton.
  • Continue straight at the stop sign (passing West Blocton High School and West Blocton Elementary on the right) for 5 miles.
  • Look for the Refuge sign on the right (not the 1st wooden sign which is a sign for the Wildlife Management, but the 2nd sign). Shortly after the sign is a dirt road on the right, River Trace, leading directly into the Refuge.

The second place nearby where there are stands of lilies is at Shelby County’s newly developed Cahaba River Park. If you are interested in discovering the lilies visit this Google Map Link which directs you to the pavilion. Walk ¼ mile to the “Old Slab.” According to Haddock, that is where the lilies reside May-June.

Cahaba Lily Festival – May 21st

Screenshot of Dr. Larry Davenport and Paul Freeman at “Cahaba Lily heaven”

Want to learn more about the lilies? Once again, Samford’s Dr. Larry Davenport , the world expert on this iconic plant will provide nature lovers a “state of lilies” report. Presentations by Davenport and community partners such as The Nature Conservancy in Alabama and the Friends of the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge begin at 9:10AM. You can live stream the event on YouTube or Facebook

Have you added the Cahaba lilies to your “bucket list?” Share you photos of lilies with us on social media at @bhamnow!   

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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