Support sought for WCU lily initiative

Chancellor David O. Belcher and, from left, Dr. Frances Owl-Smith and Susan Belcher hold a framed image of the Cullowhee lily.

Chancellor David O. Belcher and, from left, Dr. Frances Owl-Smith and Susan Belcher hold a framed image of the Cullowhee lily.

An effort to re-establish the Cullowhee lily on the Western Carolina University campus gets under way this fall with a fundraising drive, a bulb sale and ceremonial planting in the Centennial Garden.

A white flower with six petals formally called the Zephyranthes atamasca, the Cullowhee lily once common at Western Carolina now grows in only a few spots on campus. Some speculate the water-loving plant began to disappear from the Cullowhee region when the low valley wetlands were drained first for farm use then later during construction. The proliferation of aggressive kudzu along the river banks may have been another factor in the disappearance of this non-competitive lily.

A committee of WCU alumni, staff and community members began meeting last spring out of a desire to bring the Cullowhee lily back and to do so in a way that also raises money for the WCU Alumni Scholarship Fund.

“In cultivating the lily we are also cultivating our heritage and our students,” said Susan Belcher, wife of Chancellor David O. Belcher and a leader in the initiative.

Supporters of the Cullowhee lily initiative who give a $50 donation toward planting and maintaining a lily bed on campus and supporting the WCU Alumni Scholarship Fund will be honored as charter members of the Cullowhee Lily Society. Those who donate $250 will receive a framed limited edition and numbered photo of the Cullowhee lily printed on canvas and signed by Chancellor David O. Belcher.

The Cullowhee lily committee also will sell, while supplies last, a package of the hard-to-come-by bulbs for $10 to those interested in planting the Cullowhee lily, with proceeds supporting ongoing care for the plants at WCU and the WCU Alumni Scholarship Fund. The bulbs will be sold Sept. 29-Oct. 31 at businesses including Bryson Farm Supply and Country Road Farms Nursery & Garden Center in Sylva, Ray’s Florist & Greenhouse in Dillsboro and Tuckasegee Trading Co. in Cullowhee.

In addition, bulbs will be available at Cullowhee lily information booths at WCU on Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 29; before the Homecoming football game on Saturday, Oct. 6, and before the football game against Appalachian State on Saturday, Oct. 27.

The first bulbs to be planted on campus will be in the Centennial Garden, located near the curve in the road above the Central Plaza fountain. A ceremonial planting will be held Homecoming weekend at the garden at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6.

Dr. Frances Owl-Smith, president-elect of the WCU Alumni Board of Directors, said she is particularly excited that the effort will support scholarships.

“This cannot be more appreciated at this time of economic stress for our students in need of financial support who want to receive their education at this fine university,” said Owl-Smith.

To volunteer to assist with the initiative, contact Cindi Magill with the Office of Alumni Affairs at 828-227-7335 or Direct gifts to the Alumni Association Scholarship also can be made online at