Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Help protect our rare and beautiful spider lilies

Bill Strangler and Karen Kustafik check out the spider lilies that grow along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree Rivers.

Bill Strangler and Karen Kustafik check out the spider lilies that grow along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree Rivers.

Bill Stangler, a USC graduate student who is doing his thesis on the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily is also a river guide for Adventure Carolina. He is teaming up with Karen Kustafik, a former organizer of Lilyfest. Lilyfest was a one–day event aimed at educating the public about one of Columbia’s rare and beautiful flowers, the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily. This year instead of a one day festival, the organizers are promoting a campaign to get the public interested in the flowers.

They encourage river enthusiasts to take their own boats out to where the lilies grow and many of the local rental and touring businesses are staging tours for the novice to see the flowers during the peak months of May and June.

Strangler and Kustafik along with teams of agency staff are studying the aquatic Spider Lily and gathering data to track the growth of the plants.

And to gather the data, you have to go to the lilies. And the lilies grow in the rocky shoals and bedrock in large streams and rivers.

The spider lily

The spider lily

When my editors assigned me a story about the spider lilies on the rivers of Columbia, I envisioned a sedate boat ride out to photograph some pretty flowers in calm waters.

I was going to be taken to the sites along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree rivers where the hardy plants grow against all odds, and I was going with a river guide and a lily expert. That was safe. I envisioned me in my floppy hat and sunglasses, slathered in sunblock sitting in the middle of the boat while those two paddled me out to the lilies.

I would be taking notes and snapping pictures as the friendly waters gently lapped at the boat. Oh…and I would no doubt be sipping on a frosty diet Coke between questions and photos.

I showed up at Adventure Carolina and met Stangler who gave me a tour of the numerous boats and canoes the company rents or uses on its tours. He asked me which one I preferred, and I told him it didn’t matter. I didn’t mention it didn’t matter because I wasn’t entirely clear on the difference. They all looked like boats to me.

Bill Strangler and Karen Kustafik prepare kayaks for trip to see the spider lilies that grow along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree Rivers.

Bill Strangler and Karen Kustafik prepare kayaks for trip to see the spider lilies that grow along the Saluda, Broad, and Congaree Rivers.

Strangler and Kustafik picked out the boats, they told me were kayaks not canoes, and loaded them onto a truck. We all piled in to drive to the river and on the way the two are discussing where to “put in” so it’s best for me.

Kustifik is concerned about a certain spot because of rapids but I, still lost in my fantasy of the floppy hat and diet Coke boat ride, assure her that rapids are of no concern to me. I can handle rapids. In fact I love rapids. After all, they will be doing the paddling and I’ll be holding on. I get a high five from Stangler at that point and bask in the certain knowledge that yes, I am an adventurer.

We arrive at the river banks, and while I’m assembling my floppy hat and smearing on the sun block, the two of them unload the truck. Stangler has a dry bag he tells me to put my watch, camera, and anything I don’t want to get wet in.

“But I’ll need my camera to photograph the lilies,” I protest.

“I’ll give it to you when we get there,” he explains. “You don’t want to lose it or get it wet when we go through the rapids.”

It was at that moment I noticed there were three kayaks and three of us. And just beyond the rocks where people were sunbathing, I could hear the rapids.

Kustifik, a self described “river hippie,” noticed my look of alarm and assured me all I had to do was follow her and keep the nose of my boat pointing into the rapids. Stangler told me not to worry, but if I did fall out of the kayak, to stay on my back until one of them could fish me out.


As you can imagine, I got drenched, the sunblock was washed off, my floppy hat flipped, and my note pad became an unusable sponge. And it was a total blast! The rapids were just that. Rapid. Quick, fast, determined and they scooted us along the river in mere minutes, and then we were unceremoniously dumped into calm waters. Sitting in the middle of the rivers that I drive over every day and seeing them up close was amazing. Feeling the power of the water as it moved you and watching the wildlife on the shores was remarkable. I even saw two baby eagles that Kustifik pointed out. One sat high above us as we paddled by, watching our every move. And then we get to the lilies.

In the middle of the river, on rock beds, these sturdy plants proudly address the sun and blanket the rocks with their beautiful white blossoms that when fully opened look like, yes, a spider.

“The Rocky Shoals Spider Lily is considered a federal species of concern,” Kustifik said.

“Their decline is attributed to man–made changes in river and stream channels. When the water gets rerouted it can lead to loss of the shoal habitat they thrive

A species of concern is third down on the list of endangerment, she said.

“There’s the endangered species, the threatened species, and then the species of concern,” she said.

Stangler said that while the Columbia rivers offer great conditions for growth, the lilies are always being threatened.

“When dams are built, the water levels fluctuate, and it modifies the way the rivers flow,” he said. “There’s also water pollution, and people come and take them for their own gardens.”

The lilies grow best in constantly flowing shallow water, Kustifik said.

“As they grow, they form a root mass that anchors them to the rocks so they don’t get swept downstream by the currents,” she said. “They don’t flower until they are two or three years old.”

“Some, but not all of the flowers, will produce a seed,” Stangler said. “If the seeds mature they fall off the lilies and sink in the river. If they land on a shallow rock shelf they germinate and take root.”

This is the best time of the year to see the lilies, they said. Columbia Riverfront Park has an excellent vantage point of the island complex at the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers where dozens of the plants have grown.

Both Kustifik and Stangler urged people to help the lilies grow by not picking the flowers or trying to replant one at home.

“If you go to the island, don’t walk on the plants,” Stangler said. “You have to be careful not to crush them.”

I personally highly recommend that anyone wanting to see the lilies go by boat. I’d even recommend going by way of the rapids. Just take extra sunblock and leave any paper goods on shore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.