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What is a Calla Lily?

By Stacy C.
Updated May 16, 2024
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The calla lily, also known as the Zantedeschia or arum lily, is an herbaceous, perennial plant native to South Africa. Due to its large, beautiful bloom, it is a very popular houseplant and is also used in many floral arrangements. It is actually part of the Araceae family, and not the Liliaceae family, which is the one that a true lily belongs to.

The calla lily plant is very hardy and easy to grow and care for. It grows from a bulb and can reach one to three feet tall (0.3 to 0.9 m). The plant produces showy, trumpet-shaped blooms. This is actually not it's flower, but rather a leaf called a spathe. The actual flower part of the plant is the yellow or orange spike in the middle of the spathe.

Calla lily stems are very thick and sturdy. The plant prefers full sun or partial shade, and moist but well-drained soil. Calla lilies can be grown outside in tropical environments. A smaller variety of calla lily grows to a maximum of two feet (0.6 m) tall, and produces much smaller flowers that are usually referred to as minis.

The most common color for the spathe of the calla lily is white, but other varieties include yellow, orange, pink or purple, red, green, and black. Since they symbolize things like rebirth and purity, white calla lilies are often seen in wedding bouquets, in Easter floral arrangements, and in funerary flowers. Green calla lilies are the rarest variety, and the black blooms are really a very deep shade of purple.

The name calla lily is actually a misnomer because the plant does not belong to the lily family at all. It really has more in common with houseplants, such as caladium and philodendron. It is also very closely related to the skunk cabbage.

Many artists have found the calla lily to be a favorable subject. For instance, painter Georgia O'Keefe used the flower so frequently in her work that she became known as the lady of the lilies. Diego Rivera was also known for his art featuring the flower.

All parts of this plant are extremely toxic to humans and animals due to an ingredient in the plant called oxalic acid. Ingesting any part of it may cause burning and swelling of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and eye irritation. As with many poisonous plants, the roots are it's most dangerous part.

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