The memories and lore surrounding a white flower with six petals — once so common in the Cullowhee valley that it was called the Cullowhee lily — have inspired Western Carolina University alumni and community members to bring the flower back.
“Cullowhee” is a Cherokee word that some believe translates to mean “valley of the lilies” and hearkens back to a time when the flower populated the area. To celebrate the Cullowhee community and sense of place, Susan Belcher, wife of Chancellor David Belcher, had hoped WCU could incorporate the lilies into her husband’s installation décor, only to learn the plant was no longer common in the area.
Today, the lily, which usually flowers in late April or early May, grows in only a few spots on campus, said Roger Turk, grounds superintendent.
“We started wondering what happened to the Cullowhee lily,” said Belcher. “David and I fell in love with Cullowhee and the area, and we both are dedicated to preserving and deepening the sense of place here.”
The WCU Alumni Association, the Office of the Chancellor and WCU Facilities Management grounds crews are partnering to re-establish the Cullowhee lily in the community, starting with the WCU campus. Organizers of the initiative, which is still in early planning stages, are seeking additional partners and supporters, and plan to link the effort to the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund.