If you’re out traipsing high elevation mountains and meadows across WNC this July, you might spy the stunning red-orange trumpet of a Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi) bloom. Please look but don’t touch! This rare native flower has been suffering from a fungal disease that may be spread by contact. The Lily Leaf Spot Disease kills juveniles and reduces reproduction in adults, creating a grim forecast for the future of these beautiful blooms.
First identified by famous American botanist Asa Gray in the Highlands of Roan in 1840, Gray’s lily occurs at high elevations in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, on grassy balds and in moist forests and wet meadows. They bloom in June and July, creating brilliant displays beloved by nature photographers and naturalists. Already listed as Threatened in NC, Gray’s lily populations have been suffering from the wide spread of disease caused by the fungal phytopathogen Pseudocercosporella inconspicua. Indications of the disease occur as tan spots on the leaves, stems, and reproductive portions of the lily. SAHC, in partnership with the US Forest Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, recently posted educational signs along the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands of Roan to raise awareness about the Gray’s lily and try to slow spread of the disease. impacts other native lilies, including Canada and Turk’s Cap lily, but Gray’s lily seems to be most susceptible.