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The Cahaba River

For thousands of years, the Cahaba River, with the other rivers and streams of Alabama, has moved unceasingly to the sea. And just beneath the normally peaceful waters exist perhaps the greatest collection of plant and animal life in North America. Overstatement? Hardly.
While Alabama is the 29th largest state, it ranks fourth in the number of plant and animal species. Fully eight percent of all the freshwater flowing through the continental United States flows through this state. Only Florida can rival Alabama in the number of species per square mile. Alabama's waterways host 38 percent of all the freshwater fill-breathing snails, 52 percent of all turtle species and 60 percent of all the freshwater mussel species. Since 1991, three new fish species previously undescribed by science have been found in the Mobile River basin.
The Cahaba River has more fish species per mile, 131, than any river its size in North America, including 18 species that exist only in the Mobile River drainage area. To put this in perspective, the Cahaba has more native species of fish than the entire state of California. The Cahaba River basin supports 69 rare and imperiled species, including 10 fish and mussel species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In 1992, botanist Jim Allison discovered eight new species of plants in the limestone bluffs of Bibb county overlooking the Cahaba that were previously unknown to science. His discovery rivals the great expeditions to the heart of Africa or up the Amazon River in the 19th Century.
Perhaps the best known of the Cahaba's endangered inhabitants is the Cahaba Lily, also known as the Shoals Lily. The Cahaba Lily is unusual in that it grows literally in the middle of the river, wedging its bulbs between cracks in the rocks that comprise the riverbed. Each spring, in May and June, the Lillies rise above the flowing current in an explosion of white and green.

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