Calla Lilly Journal

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Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

Oddly enough, the calla is not a member of the lily family. Its common relatives are philodendron and jack-in-the-pulpit. This plant is known by several names; arum lily, crowborough, green goddess lily, green spathe, varkblom, and most commonly as calla lily.

Arum lilies are native to the Transvaal region in South Africa, where fields of these plants can be seen waving their majestic heads in the sun. They grow tall, 120 cm or higher under favorable conditions, and often escape into bushland and river banks. They like their heads in full golden sunlight, but their feet wet, in soil that is fertile and boggy. In Western Australia the calla has gained notoriety as a garden escapee and is considered a noxious weed, intrusively usurping valuable pastureland.

This evergreen herbaceous, bulbous perennial is frost sensitive, hardy to zone 8. Its leaves are long, luxuriant and quite dramatic, twisting and undulating and often speckled with white spots. Its flowers are tiny, clustered tightly in a spadix sheathed in a creamy white spathe. The flowers are monoecious; either male or female, but both sexes are found on the same plant.

All parts of the plant are deemed highly toxic if eaten raw. Toxicity derives from calcium oxalate crystals which cause a severe burning sensation, like thousands of hot needles prickling the tongue, throat and stomach. Swelling of the lips, gastric pain and diarrhea are further unpleasant symptoms.

Freud's identification of the sexual/psychological symbolism of the calla lily pervaded American and European aesthetic consciousness and informed the work of poets and artists. This green goddess lily is a favorite with designers and caterers and is often used for funeral and wedding bouquets.

artwork and text by 

milly acharya ©2004

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