Clusters of spider lilies are set to become a bigger star on Columbia’s riverfront.
Plans call for a viewing area for the rare flowers to be installed on the north edge of Riverfront Park by mid-summer.
That will be too late this year to see the 100 clusters that blossom in crevices on river rocks and shoals in spring. But the move could help preserve the flowers from eager viewers who could trample the lilies or run their boats over the flowers in an effort to get closer.
The habitat around the confluence of the Broad and lower Saluda rivers where they form the Congaree just above Columbia’s downtown is one of the few sites in the Southeast where the flowers grow.
The Rocky Shoals Spider Lily blooms only for about four weeks a year between late May and mid-June. They are at the end or near the end of their bloom now.
The new viewing site will feature stationary binoculars for close-up looks at the large white flowers as well as signs explaining their significance and urging people to leave the lilies alone.
It’s a new attempt to spotlight the lilies without threatening damage to a hardy species whose small numbers led federal wildlife officials to rate their future as of concern.
“These flowers already have enough challenges with river conditions,” city park ranger Karen Kustafik said.
State and local officials have kept close watch on lilies there for nearly 20 years, checking each spring to make sure the clusters scattered along a three-mile stretch of the rivers continue to thrive.
Teams take to the water for annual checks noting the location, length, width and height of each clump and the number of stalks in each, all kept in digital records. New bulbs are added at times to bolster the population.
The latest survey last month found much less damage than feared from flooding after record rain last October, Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. “There was not nearly the problems that might have happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, a partnership promoting protection of the lilies continues with outdoor groups and float trip firms.
Paddlers are told to look and take pictures but stay off the shoals and not pick the flowers to take home.
The lilies are largely an unrecognized natural gem in the Midlands despite the attention to their survival, officials said.
Float trips to view them are popular with floral aficionados, said Logan Ross, guide service manager at Get Your Gear On.
“It’s like bird watchers who travel a long way to see a rare bird,” he said.
Stangler dreams of the lilies growing into an attraction not only locally but nationally.
“They really are one of those iconic Southern beauties,” he said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483