Save the Lilies: Bulb sale promotes plant

The Valley of the Lilies is returning as the Cullowhee Lily Bulb Sale is kicked off once again to re-establish the Cullowhee lily back on campus and around the region.

The Cullowhee Lily Bulb sale is an effort between the Cullowhee Lily Initiative and CLI Community Partnership, sponsored by the Western Carolina University Alumni Association to help bring back the Cullowhee lily. The initiative also helps support the WCU alumni scholarship fund by donating all funds to the scholarship.

The initiative started in 2012, when Susan Belcher, wife of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, heard Cullowhee referred to as “Valley of the Lilies,” discovering the flower was no longer common to the area. Betty Allen, 1968 alumna and past-president of the Western Carolina University alumni association, said she remembered them on campus in the 60s and expressed her desire to bring them back. Allen suggested the Alumni Association sponsor and support the effort.

“I wanted to bring back a sense of place,” said Susan Belcher.

Since the initiative started, a major partner has been The Sylva Garden Club. The club is an established garden club in Sylva, whose members are interested in gardening, landscaping and beautifying their own homes and city of Sylva. With the help from The Sylva Garden Club and other partners, the initiative raised $10,000 for the WCU alumni scholarship.

The bulbs come from a farm in east central Alabama called Double Branch. They’re harvested by Robert Dean, a botanist from Georgia, for Western Carolina in honor of his mother, Caroline Dean, who is a well-known regional botanist. Her specialty was wild flowers.

“We plant them in the fall, one to two inches below the ground, in well drained, moist soil, not clay,” said Belcher.

After being planted, they need to be kept moist in dry seasons, and they are a spring bloomer around late April and early May. When in bloom, the lilies will last three weeks.

Officially established, a Western Carolina University Alumni Cullowhee lily bed, called the Centennial Garden, is at the curve above the fountain across Centennial Drive. This is where the plantings have started, but they plan on expanding and planting them in other places around campus. Belcher wants to see them down near Cullowhee Creek.

There are four ways to support the initiative. The easiest ways is buy a package of bulbs containing six to eight bulbs for $10 or to buy a package of eight Cullowhee Lily stationary cards, also for $10. Other ways to support the project is to become a member of the Cullowhee Lily Society for $50 or purchase a limited edition, signed and framed photograph of the lily for $250.

These bulbs are being sold at the Catamount Clothing and Gifts and Tuckasegee Trading Co. in Cullowhee; Bryson Farm Supply, Country Road Farms Nursery & Garden Center, Ray’s Florist and Green House and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in Sylva; Oaks Gallery, Bradley’s General Store, Tunnel Mountain Crafts, Dillsboro Smokehouse, The Hopberry – Primitive Home Accessories and Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro. Bulbs are also sold during tailgating events during football games.

Students from Western Carolina are even helping out during the event, through the LCEP, lily community engagement program, which is a part of the WCU learning service program. These students are using the initiative to get involved and earn documented service learning hours and after gaining 100 hours of service, students are rewarded with an honors cord at graduation. Organizations that want to help can purchase some bulbs and plant them.

When asked if there was more involvement this year than last year’s sale, Belcher remarked, “I think so, yes. We have more community partners, at least twice as many. We have more organizations that is purchasing in bulk for landscaping needs, and certainly more awareness about the event.”

To find out more information about the Cullowhee Lily Bulb sale, call 828-227-7335. Cindi Magill can also be contacted at