I remember the first time I saw a calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica). I was watching an old Katherine Hepburn movie, “Stage Door.” She swept into the room with an armload of calla lilies and, in her breathless voice, exclaimed, “The calla lilies are in bloom.” Ever since then, the classic beauty of calla lilies has fascinated me. The genus, Zantedeschia, was named in honor of the Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi. The common name, calla, is derived from the Greek word for beautiful.
Calla lilies are not true lilies but members of the Arum family. According to Victorian flower lore, calla lilies symbolize devotion, purity, and bliss. Many brides carry these symbolic flowers in their bouquets, and calla lilies are also the official blooms to celebrate a 6th wedding anniversary.
Calla lilies originate from South Africa and are grown from rhizomes. Due to our hot South Carolina summers, they should be grown in full morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. They prefer moist, well-drained, organically rich soil. If kept too wet, the rhizomes will develop root rot. They are winter hardy in USDA planting zones 8 to 10.
The rhizomes should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed when the daytime temperatures stay above 70° F. When planting, make sure you place the rhizome with the “eyes” (growth buds) pointing up. Plant no deeper than 3 to 4 inches and space the rhizomes 12 to 18 inches apart. Most cultivars will range 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 1 ½ feet wide. They bloom in the late spring or early summer, about 60 to 90 days after planting.
Calla lilies have long, arrow-shaped leaves that can be solid green or green flecked with white spots. The elegant flower is made up of a yellow spadix (flowering spike) in the center surrounded by a bright spathe (leaf-like curved bract) that surrounds the spadix.
The white calla lily is the most well-known, but the flowers are also available in various shades of orange, pink, purple, red, or yellow. Plant breeders are continually hybridizing calla lilies to develop new flower and foliage colors.
Voles and squirrels love to munch on the rhizomes. Japanese beetles, slugs, and snails may also be a problem. The good news is that calla lilies are deer resistant.
Calla lilies add classic beauty to the landscape and may also be planted in containers for use on your patio, deck, or porch. Add some of these lovely plants to your garden this spring. When they bloom, then you too, in your best Katherine Hepburn impersonation voice, can say, “The calla lilies are in bloom.”
For more information, see HGIC 1156, Summer- And Fall- Flowering Bulbs.