A small section of the Catawaba River comes alive in a carpet of white flowers from mid-May to mid-June. And this week those blooms will be at their peak.

South Carolina’s Landsford Canal State Park claims it is home to the largest population of the rare Rocky Shoals Spider Lily. This colony extends for .75-mile across the 2,000-foot width of the Catawba, said park manager Al James.

This aquatic plant needs a shallow, rocky bottom with clean, swift-flowing water to root. This environment has become rare with the damming of rivers throughout the plant’s native range of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Clumps of tall green leaves rise about 3 feet from the host rocks, then fall downward like a fountain. Shooting above these leaves, stalks present clusters of large white blossoms.

Misti Sporer, lead environmental scientist with Duke Energy, said that based on the size and density of the buds, peak bloom should be this week. As part of its license to operate hydroelectric facilities on the river, Duke Energy is charged with conducting an annual lily survey to monitor the health of the plants, she said.

Officials say on the park’s website that the peak should last for the next two weeks, weather permitting.

The corona or center of each flower averages 3.5 inches in diameter while six petals that extend in a corolla measuring 7 inches, Sporer said.

The spider lilies are best seen by kayak or canoe.

Paddlers can put in at the park’s launch site, and weave their way through the 20-acre field of the spider lilies. A take-out spot is 1.5 miles downriver, and the park’s trails make for an easy hike back to the parking lot.

Duke Energy maintains recreational paddling levels through its releases from the Lake Wylie hydroelectric dam on Friday through Sunday throughout the summer, but visitors are encouraged to check the water levels through the links provide on the state park FAQ page.

Park volunteers say they can get 200 or more paddlers a day on weekends while the spider lilies are in bloom.

Rentals may be available through Twisted Beaver River Adventures, 877-745-1562.

Those who don’t want to paddle can view the spider lilies from an observation platform located .75-mile down the park’s Nature Trail.

The trail is shaded by a canopy of hardwood trees that provides shelter from the hot summer sun.

Continue past the observation platform on the park’s Canal Trail and visitor encounter some of the best historical features of the park’s namesake canal.

The canal was used from 1820 to 1835 to allow commercial traffic on the Catawba River, bypassing the river’s rocky shoals.

Today, 1.5 miles of the canal’s ruins, from the guard locks on the upstream end to the upper lifting locks, are open for exploration. An arched stone bridge over those locks was used by wagons to cross over the canal and continue on to a river’s ford. A historical marker indicates that area as the route of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road that extended on to Augusta, Ga.

A lower portion of the canal is covered in earth and not accessible to the public.

Landsford Canal State Park is about 12 miles from Exit 77 on I-77. The route from the interstate is not well marked, but GPS and mapping apps will take you right there.

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Walt Unks is the photo editor for the Winston-Salem Journal. Contact him at wunks@wsjournal.com or 336-727-7250

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