X Marks the Spot: The Search for the Celestial Lily

submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter
(originally printed in The Grapevine, the Suncoast Chapter's  monthly newsletter)

The Map

The Map

Back in October, I ran into a friend at a native plant talk. He enthusiastically told me about a colony of Celestial Lilies, Nemastylis floridana, that were blooming in central Florida, and hastily drew me a map to locate the beautiful and endangered wildflowers. The map was very rough, so I tried to ask questions, but the talk we were both attending started, and I was left with this somewhat cryptic diagram. In any case, that weekend my husband, Bob, and I decided we were going to try find the spot, and invited a few unsuspecting friends for the hunt.

I first tried to see Celestial Lilies at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. It was late fall, a little pass their peak blooming time, and all we found was one bud. With at least six pairs of eyes staring at it, it did not open. I should also say that Celestial Lilies are unusual in that they only open for a few hours in the late afternoon. For this reason, Roger Hammer has affectionately named it “the happy hour flower.”

Fly visiting Dicerandra modesta

The Quest

We left for our journey at around 2 pm the following Sunday, with the map and some information I had pulled off Google. I remembered the words Huckleberry, Poinciana, and 17-92. So, when I found a preserve off Huckleberry Road in the vicinity of those roads, we thought we had it.

Blushing Scrub Mint

Dicerandra modesta

The first property we visited didn’t look like the habitat for the Celestial Lily, but it was perfect habitat for Blushing Scrub Balm, Dicerandra modesta, and we saw lots of it. It is also an endangered Florida native, but endemic to scrub habitat versus the moist open flatwoods that the Celestial Lily like to grow in. The flowers of the Blushing Scrub Balm are white with bright pink spots, reminding me of mint peppermint candies. This was our first time seeing it, so we did not mind being off track for the lilies.

 The Treasure

Nemastylis floridana
After leaving the first location, we were not about to give up. There were still a few hours of daylight, and we knew we were close. We looked at the map and decided to take head toward Poinciana Drive. Bob, my husband was driving, and he had to pull off the road a few times to let local traffic by. He also made a few U-turns as we barked out directions. It reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disney world. We finally arrived at a second “Huckleberry” location and a habitat much more suitable for the Celestial Lily, Nemastylis floridana. A short walk into the preserve and our persistence was rewarded with a large patch of the blooming flowers.

Nemastylis floridana

The lilies looked like little blue stars that had dropped down from the cosmos. They were delicate, yet vibrant. They were scattered about in an understory of pine. Bright yellow sunflowers stood in contrast with the purple/blue flowers. A few isolated blooms were right along the trail. There was one rare white lily morph that seemed past its prime. The sight was a perfect end to serendipitous day.


Both of those little flowers are pretty.

Thanks for all of the wildflower info you give here.

Unknown said…
There's a large population of them in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area in eastern Orange County off of Hwy. 520.

Unknown said…
There is a large population of them at the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area in eastern Orange County off of Hwy. 520.
Tom Palmer said…
Glad you found them. We're working with SFWMD land managers about their mowing schedule here. By the way, that's a fly, not a bee.--Tom Palmer

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