Although called a lily, the Calla Lily is not a true lily. It belongs to the same family as caladium and jack-in-the-pulpit. The botanical name, Zantedeschia, was bestowed on the plant by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766 – 1833).
These herbaceous perennials average from 0.3 to 1 metre high and when fully mature, have a diameter of about 0.3 to 0.4m. Calla lilies are one of the easiest of plants to grow. They will grow in all areas but do best with some shade in hot climates. In colder areas, they will thrive in full sun. They like plenty of water but the root system will rot if the soil is constantly wet. They have good resistance to disease and are excellent as a cut flower.
Classic white lily varieties are Crowborough which grows to 60cm and Godrey (30cm). Calla lilies come in colours other than white however. The stunning Green Goddess grows to 1.2m. Striking green flowers have white centres. Dominique is a brilliant maroon and Millenium Gold has showy, golden spathes.
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All Calla lily varieties share certain characteristics. What appear to be the floral petals are actually called spathes. These showy, funnel-shaped outer leaves encircle the spadix which is a tapering enclosure for the actual flowers. The prominent spathes are supported by thick, strong fleshy stems. The bold, glossy leaves are sword- or arrow-shaped. Many of the dwarf varieties (and some others) feature blotches of white, cream or silver. The blooms are waxy and long-lasting. The inflorescent may be white, yellow or pink and the central spadix yellow.
Calla lilies grow from a rhizome, a specialised bulb or tuber. Rhizomes are normally 'lifted' from the soil after the leaves die down. Place them in a well-ventilated position and allow to dry out. Store in paper bags and place in a cool, dry, dark place until early spring.
Alternatively, rhizomes can be stored by burying them in a container of vermiculite or peat moss. The rhizomes can be divided before planting if desired. Stored rhizomes may develop dry rot. After discarding damaged rhizomes, soak the rest in a mild fungicide. If you want early blooms, plant the rhizomes indoors in late winter and transfer once the weather warms up. Plant approximately 5cm deep with 30cm to 45cm of growing space between plants. Water thoroughly them keep the soil moist but not soaking.
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If buying rhizomes, buy plump, firm rhizomes and the largest available. Small rhizomes may not flower in the first year.
These plants contain calcium oxalate and all parts are poisonous. Symptoms of poisoning include irritation and swelling of the throat and mouth. There may be acute and severe vomiting and diarrhoea. The calla lily has been responsible for the deaths of humans and livestock following ingestion.
In temperate areas, calla lilies become naturalised and can quickly take on the status of an introduced weed.
Because of the elegant, aristocratic shape of the upright, cup-shaped flowers, it is very popular for floral arrangements and for bridal bouquets. The calla lily is highly adaptable, strong and sturdy. In a garden setting, providing attention is paid to the proportions of an area, calla lilies combine well with other plants. They are especially attractive near a water feature.