The calla lily is not really a lily at all, but rather a very elegant herbaceous flowering plant related to the caladiums and jack-in-the-pulpit. The stunning blooms of all varieties of calla make dramatic, long-lasting and spectacular accents to any garden or indoor furnishings, colors and decorating themes. Callas are favorite featured accents for weddings, formal occasions and even funerals.
Although showy and aristocratic, the white varieties of calla are more common than colored specimens, which include shades of yellow, orange, green, pink, lavender and purple.
All callas share many characteristics.
Every known variety of calla lily produces breathtakingly beautiful, showy, funnel-shape spathes, which are really colored outer leaves that encircle the spadix. The spadix, though small and difficult to see, is a tapering enclosure for the actual flowers. It is the prominent outer colored leaf structure that most think of when referring to calla blooms, which are supported by thick, strong, fleshy stems.
Although all callas are accented by rich green, long, sword- or arrow-shape leaves, many feature speckles or blotches of silver, white or cream, particularly the dwarf varieties.
The largest callas grow as tall as 7-8 feet, while dwarf specimens may be only 18 inches. No matter the size of the callas, all produce stunning, fleshy, waxy, long-lasting blooms, whether cut or allowed to remain on the plant to dramatize a garden setting.
The striking "Green Goddess" calla lily
All calla lilies have much in common with each other. They are grown from a specialized type of bulb or tuber, known as a rhizome. Calla lilies also share comparable growing habits and cultivation requirements. All possess remarkably similar but unique physical characteristics, making them very easy to identify as callas.
However, there are exquisite variations in color of spathes and foliage among the genus that go far beyond the white calla that we are so familiar with. Many of the variations are brought to us courtesy of modern hybridization techniques.
The common Aethiopica, also known as "Giant White," is the large white calla most people are familiar with. Growing to heights of 36 inches, the sparkling, pristine, waxy white spathes measure as wide as 5 inches.
The extraordinary "Green Goddess" features large 5-inch creamy spathes bordered with wide emerald green margins. This majestic calla lily reaches a height of 30 inches.
A strikingly beautiful dwarf calla variety called "Dark Forest" boasts dark purple blooms with black throats atop 18-inch stems. The blooms are up to 2.5 inches wide.
Another stunning dwarf, "Fire Glow," has deep peach to flame red spathes, fading gently to yellow-peach throats. Some variegation is often present on the spathe as well. The height of the stems is about 18 inches, and spathes are about 2 inches wide.
The lovely "Pink Persuasion" is a delicate but rich pink bloom up to 2 inches wide. The stems of this dwarf never exceed 16 to 18 inches tall.
A slightly taller dwarf calla, "Millenium Gold," has showy, golden spathes as wide as 3 to 4 inches. Stem height may be up to 24 inches.
Childsiana, another calla in the same size range as "Millenium Gold," features white spathes, which are up to 4 inches wide. This beauty is a favorite cut flower for bouquets and corsages.
"Millenium Gold," a brilliant and vibrant golden dwarf calla lily
All calla lilies originated from Southern Africa. They occur naturally in areas where soil is rich, water is plentiful, and humidity is high, such as South African marshlands. Although the calla requires regular water and feeding, these sturdy, strong plants can be adapted to grow in different habitats and soils.
Easily propagated almost anywhere from tuberous bulbs called rhizomes, calla lilies multiply by setting rhizome offsets, so they are quite prolific. In many temperate areas around world where it has been introduced and become naturalized, the calla is considered to be a weed and a pest because of its ability to reproduce quickly and efficiently.
Another captivating dwarf calla lily, "Fire Glow"
Highly adaptable plants, some varieties of calla lily can even tolerate a mild frost. In United States Zones 6-10, most varieties may be grown outdoors year-round wherever the ground does not freeze. Some of the less cold-hardy specimens should only be placed outside all year in Zones 8-10. However, all of the calla lilies can be successfully grown as house plants.
Strong, sturdy and flexible, the calla manages to adjust to almost any soil conditions as long as the humidity is high enough. The plants will spread far and wide prolifically by means of rhizome offsets, and will quickly fill an area with beautiful blooming ground cover. Although it is possible to grow calla lilies from seed, it is a difficult, painstaking and usually doubtful process that takes a great deal of time and effort. It is much easier to dig up rhizomes from existing Callas and replant some of them to repopulate another area of the garden.
Calla lilies prefer full sun in cooler climates, and partial shade in warm areas, where they can remain planted year-round. After the leaves wither, northern calla lily rhizomes should be dug up.
Storing calla lily rhizomes is a matter of just burying them in an open container filled with vermiculite, perlite or peat moss. They store easily in dark, dry, cool locations, and will be ready to plant in the spring when the frosts have passed. The rhizomes can also be divided while they are in storage.
When replanting calla lilies, a good feeding of 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 fertilizer should be given. Providing a moist, but not wet, well-drained soil will make the callas feel right at home, and will lavish the garden with spectacular rewards.
Please don’t eat the callas.
The calla lilies have but one flaw, which is that all parts of the plants are highly toxic if consumed by people or pets. All members of the calla family contain a poison known as oxalic acid. If ingestion is suspected, a poison control center should be contacted immediately. Early symptoms of poisoning include irritation and swelling of the mouth and throat, as well as acute and severe vomiting and diarrhea. Deaths have been reported in humans and in livestock.