Gardeners' Dirt: Beautiful, stately calla lilies

By Jean Wofford - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Gardener Charla Borchers Leon
June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.

The calla lily grows best in partial sun with afternoon shade in moist conditions.  Its leaves are both solid and speckled green.   The elongated stem develops into what is called a spathe with a tubular bloom having a curled tip and a pistil inside it.

The calla lily grows best in partial sun with afternoon shade in moist conditions. Its leaves are both solid and speckled green. The elongated stem develops into what is called a spathe with a tubular bloom having a curled tip and a pistil inside it.

I love the beautiful creamy white of calla lilies. Equally as striking are colored varieties that are also elegant with their stately blooms and long, simple leaves. A calla lily plant in bloom or as a cut flower stem is simply a thing of beauty.

From South Africa to America

Calla lilies have an interesting history. First of all, they are not lilies. They are in the philodendron araceae family and are native to South Africa.

It is not known exactly how and when the calla lily was introduced to Europe, but it did appear in an illustration of the Royal Garden in Paris in 1664. Originally named by the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, it was later named by German botanist Karl Koch after his fellow botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi from Italy who died in 1846.

According to the Yale University press, in the second half of the 19th century, the exotic South African calla lily was introduced in the U.S. and began to appear as subject matter in American art.

Myth or history?

The meaning of calla lily has been related to Hera, the Greek goddess of women and marriage. According to legend, Zeus wanted his son, Hercules, to have divine powers, so he drugged Hera and let the baby Hercules nurse from her. When she awoke, she pushed the baby away from her in fury. During this act, a drop of milk fell on the Earth and turned into a calla lily.

Venus felt like her beauty was threatened by the beauty of the flower. As the story goes, she cursed the bloom and a pistil grew from the curled middle of the calla. Now, I ask you, myth or history?

Uses of calla lilies

Few plants are as spectacular as a calla lily (Zantedeschia) in bloom. For that reason, they are often used in simple elegance for significant occasions.

•  Weddings

It's that time of the year for June brides and weddings. Did you know that calla lilies are the most widely requested flower for bridal bouquets? The words "flower" and "bloom" are used loosely when referring to calla lilies because the flower isn't really a flower or bloom at all, but an elongated leaf known as a spathe.

•  Funerals

Calla lilies are equally used as funeral flowers. In some cultures these stately blooms were considered to be flowers of mourning. I have seen them used in this manner as well.

•  Flower arrangements

Calla lilies make lovely floral arrangements either alone or with other flowers. I like to put them in a tall, clear vase to show the simple beauty of the stems.

If you chose to make an arrangement, be sure and cut the stems while under water to prevent air from getting into the stem. It is not a good idea to put them close to a heat source, such as on top of a television set. Nor is it advisable to put them in sunlight or in a draft.

Every three or four days, put the calla lilies into a sink with cool, fresh water, and cut the stems under water. Cut off a very small part of the stem. This could lengthen their presence up to two weeks with the addition of fresh water preservation.

Growing these classical beauties

While commercial florists can order calla lilies from far away locations and have them in stock year-round for special occasions, these beauties can be grown locally in our area.

•  Mixed light and moist soil

Calla lilies grow in full sunlight but do best with afternoon shade in more extreme conditions. They bloom in the spring as the weather becomes warmer after winter. Since they are tropical plants, they grow best in moist soil.

In the wild, the calla lily prefers marshy areas. In their native South African setting , they thrive at the edges of rivers, swamps and lakes adapting to wet, swampy conditions, followed by drought conditions during the dry season.

In the U.S., calla lilies are hardy in Zones 8 through 10. After blooming, they may become dormant for several months and in the right conditions, are known to re-appear in the next blooming season much like a perennial.

•  Plant rhizome in amended soil

Buy this rhizome plant from a reliable source. Work some good compost into the bedding area and plant your healthy rhizomes with the top exposed a little.

Water them in and then leave them alone. Within a few days, you should see some little green sprouts and soon you should have an established plant. Calla lilies will bloom late spring into early summer if planted in the spring on your gardening calendar.

Whether for use in an elegant, stately ceremony, in a distinguished flower arrangement of simplicity or in your landscape in spectacular bloom, the calla lily bestows beauty and elegance to each setting.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or



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