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December 2, 2009 > Pat Kite's Garden: Calla Lilies

Pat Kite's Garden: Calla Lilies

By Pat Kite

Sally says white Calla lilies, symbolizing purity, are the newest rage in wedding bouquets. Not only that, men are wearing tiny white callas ornamentally tucked in their lapels. This is all amazing, considering how hard I've tried to get rid of the thriving, continually expanding, white Callas in my front, back and side yard. I won't even tell you the methods I've attempted, lest I get notes accusing me of greenery misconduct. Instead, I will speak fondly. After all, when in bloom, they are quite lovely.

Calla Lily, and its alternate common name Arum Lily, are Zantedeschia. The moniker is from Professor Giovanni Zantedeschi [1773-1846], an Italian physician and botanist. In ancient Roman days, the calla lily was treasured as a celebration of light. Later it became a common funeral decoration. In some parts of Europe, even today, it is inappropriate to bring callas as a hospital "get-well" gift.

There are about six different species of Calla. White Callas, Z. aethiopica, are easy to grow. I acquired my starters, some 20 years ago, by commenting to an acquaintance, "Gee, those are pretty flowers." Immediately she ran for a shovel, and gave me a batch; rhizomes, wide green 3-foot-long leaves and large white funnel-shaped "flowers" with a yellow tube-like structure in the middle. I was so excited.

Actually, the white part is the spathe, not the flower. The many flowers, teensy, are clustered on the yellow tube, the spadix. From the flowers come good size yellow seeds. These seeds must not like their parent or something, since they journey hither and yon, to make their own Calla families. They are adaptable to most soils, but do like regular watering. Apparently you can even grow them in a bog-type garden. Semi-sun is fine. Hereabouts they are leafy almost year round.

Mine flower starting about Easter. But they are not Easter lilies, nor are they lilies. They are related to philodendrons, the houseplant. Yes, you can grow Callas in a pot indoors, but they take a tad more fussing. Put the pot in a saucer containing water. Add an occasional smidge of fertilizer. Several folk have commented that while the white versions, even the newer shorter ones, thrive in most places, the rose, lavender or yellow versions seem to demise rather quickly. Quoting from a detailed garden tome, "the coloured callas are not semi-aquatic plants like the white Z. aethiopica and are also not hardy." Does that make you feel better?

For home vase decor, change the water every couple of days. Remove about an inch of the stem each time. The decoration should then last about 10 days. And if you are a fan of the famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe... "Yes, it is done. The winter is over and past, and the time of the singing birds is come.... Down in the swamp-land fronting our cottage, four calla-lily buds are just unfolding themselves." From her 1873 book, Palmetto-Leaves.

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