The Cullowhee lily initiative has taken root with blooming bulbs and scholarship support


Efforts to re-establish the Cullowhee lily on the Western Carolina University campus and to cultivate additional funding for the WCU Alumni Association Scholarship Fund have taken root in this, the 125th year of the institution’s history. For the first time this past spring, Cullowhee lily bulbs, which had been planted in a campus garden during a ceremony as part of Homecoming weekend 2012, produced the distinctive white flower with six petals.

Cullowhee LIly

In addition, sales of Cullowhee lily bulbs and note cards, along with memberships into the Cullowhee Lily Society, have generated some $31,000 so far toward the WCU Alumni Scholarship Fund, which provides annual, need-based support to a current WCU student with close ties to Catamount alumni.

“The support of our loyal WCU alumni and from members of our local community in this endeavor has been truly amazing,” said Marty Ramsey ’85, director of alumni affairs. “Although we initially thought a portion of the proceeds from this activity would support ongoing care for the plants and the lily beds, WCU grounds crew superintendent Roger Turk and his crew are maintaining the garden as part of their normal landscaping work at very little cost for us. That means that almost all of the dollars raised in this initiative are going toward the scholarship fund.”

Formally called the Zephyranthes atamasco, the Cullowhee lily once common at Western Carolina now grows in only a few spots on campus. Some speculate that the water-loving plant began to disappear from the Cullowhee area when the low valley wetlands were drained first for farm use, then later during campus construction. The proliferation of aggressive kudzu along the river banks may have been another factor in the disappearance of the lily.

Launched in 2012, the project is the brainchild of Betty Allen ’68, former Alumni Association president, and was championed by Susan Belcher, wife of Chancellor David O. Belcher. Also playing important roles are the WCU Alumni Association, the Office of the Chancellor and WCU Facilities Management grounds crews, along with many members of the surrounding community.

The Cullowhee Lily Initiative is winding down during WCU’s quasquicentennial year, said Ramsey. Lily bulbs and note cards will be sold at this September’s Mountain Heritage Day and, if any are left after that annual festival, at major campus events this fall such as Homecoming, Ramsey said.

For more information, contact Cindi Magill with the Office of Alumni Affairs at 828.227.7335 or magill@wcu.edu. Direct gifts to the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund also can be made online at give.wcu.edu.