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The History of the Calla Lily


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Native to southern Africa and the African island of Madagascar, the calla lily, a member of the Araceae plant family, is neither a calla nor a lily. In fact, this flower does not belong to the calla genus.

Mistaken Identity

  • In the mid-1700s, renowned Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus misnamed calla lilies after grouping these flowers with analogous plants. Upon discovering the error, German botanist Karl Koch classified the calla lily plant under the new Zantedeschia genus, named after Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi. However, the common name "calla lily" remained unchanged.

American Import

  • Many artists of the 1920s and 1930s painted the exotic calla lily.

    The calla lily plant, with its funnel-shaped flowers and lance-shaped leaves, arrived in America in the mid-1800s. During the 1920s and 1930s, the image of this exotic plant, which blooms in white, orange, purple, yellow and pink, became a focal point for numerous American photographers and painters, including famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Popular Blossom

  • In Greek, "calla" means "beautiful."

    Although once associated with funerals and symbolizing untimely death, today calla lily blossoms reign over many others in wedding flower choices. A single calla lily flower on display in a tall, sleek vase invokes elegance and sophistication. "Calla" means "beautiful" in the Greek language.

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