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Zantedeschia - Calla Lilly2.jpg
Zantedeschia elliottiana
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
Subfamily: Aroideae
Tribe: Zantedeschieae
Genus: Zantedeschia
Syst. Veg. 3: 756, 765 (1826)[1]
Type species
Zantedeschia aethiopica (L.) Spreng[2]

Zantedeschia /ˌzæntɪˈdɛskiə/[4] is a genus of eight species of herbaceous, perennial, flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to southern Africa from South Africa north to Malawi. The genus has been introduced on all continents except Antarctica. Common names include arum lily for Z. aethiopica and calla and calla lily for Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii, although members of the genus are neither true lilies of Liliaceae, true Arums, nor true Callas (related genera in Araceae). The colourful flowers and leaves of both species and cultivars are greatly valued and commonly grown as ornamental plants.


Zantedeschia species are rhizomatous, herbaceous, perennial plants with some species, e. g., Zantedeschia aethiopica, growing to 1.2m tall, while Zantedeschia rehmannii does not exceed 60 cm in height, growing in clumps or clusters.[5][6]
Roots: Contractile, emerging from the top of the tubers in Group II.[5]
Stem: The underground portion is variously described as a thick underground stem, i. e., a rhizome or tuber.[7][8][9] While the literature is confusing as to the exact terminology, generally the Zantedeschia aethiopica-Zantedeschia odorata group (Group I) is considered to have rhizomes and the remaining species tubers.[5] The rhizomes are fleshy and branched.[10]

Hastate leaf shape with maculation
Lanceolate leaf shape with undulate form

Leaves: Petioles are long, spongy, sheathed at the bases, and of varying lengths, from 15 cm (Zantedeschia rehmannii) to 1.5 m (Zantedeschia aethiopica). The lamina is simple, elongated, and coriaceous with a variety of shapes, including triangular, oval (ovate), with or without a point (elliptic), heart-shaped (cordate), spear-shaped (hastate), lance-shaped (lanceolate), oblong, or circular (orbicular). 15–60 cm in length, 5–25 cm in width. The leaves are dark green in colour, feather-veined (pinnate), and may be erect or spreading with undulate margins. Some species exhibit transparent flecking (maculation), and are therefore described as maculate, while others are immaculate. (see Table I, also New Zealand Calla Council Leaf Shape Images[11])[5][6][7] The leaves contain hydathodes that result in guttation.[6][10]

Table 1: Descriptive Features of the Foliage of Zantedeschia Species[5]
Species Leaf shape Leaf size[7] Maculation
Z. aethiopica Ovate-cordate or hastate 15–45×10–25 cm[7] rare
Z. odorata Ovate to cordate none
Z. albomaculata
subsp. albomaculata
Oblong-hastate 20–50×6–8 cm[7] rare
Z. albomaculata
subsp. macrocarpa
Triangular-hastate 18–20×5–7 cm[7] sparse
Z. valida Ovate to cordate to ovate-orbicular-cordate none
Z. elliottiana Orbicular-ovate 22×18 cm[7] present
Z. jucunda Triangular-hastate dense
Z. pentlandii Oblong-elliptic to oblong-lanceolate seldom
Z. rehmannii Lanceolate 20–30×3 cm[7] none
Inflorescence of Zantedeschia aethiopica, showing the white spathe surrounding the central, yellow spadix

Inflorescence: Takes the form of a solitary pseudanthium (false flower), with a showy white or yellow spathe (a specialised petal like bract) shaped like a funnel with a yellow, central, finger-like spadix, which carries the true flowers. Both spathe and spadix are carried on or above the leaves on the fleshy flower stem. The shape of the spathe whose overlapping margins form the tubes varies from trumpet shaped (Z. pentlandii) to a tight tube with a tapering tip (Z. rehmannii). The spathe is initially green, but as it unfolds becomes coloured. This may be white as in Z. aethiopica, but other species include yellow and pink. Cultivars have a wide variety of other spathe colours including orange and purple. Inside the spathe, the throat may be darkly coloured.[5][12] The spathe acts to attract pollinators.
Flowers: Zantedeschia is monoecious, in which separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers ("imperfect" or "unisexual" flowers) are carried on the spadix. The flowers are small and non-blooming without a perianth. The male flowers contain two to three stamens fused to form a synandrium, and the female flowers have a single, compound pistil with three fused carpels and three locules.[5][7][10]

Table 2: Descriptive Features of the Inflorescences of Zantedeschia Species[5]
Species Spathe colour Flowering period Throat darkened
Z. aethiopica white-pink late winter - late spring No
Z. odorata white late winter - late spring No
Z. albomaculata
subsp. albomaculata
white-pale yellow-coral pink late winter Yes
Z. albomaculata
subsp. macrocarpa
yellow summer Yes
Z. valida cream summer Yes
Z. elliottiana gold-yellow summer Yes
Z. jucunda gold-yellow summer Yes
Z. pentlandii lemon-chrome yellow summer Yes
Z. rehmannii white-pink-maroon summer No

Fruit: Beaked orange or red berries.[10]


Zantedeschia is the sole genus in the tribe Zantedeschieae in a 1997 classification of the Araceae.[13]


Zantedeschia albomaculata, from L'Illustration Horticole v.7 (1860), by Charles Antoine Lemaire (1801-1871), and Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825-1886)

Eight species are currently recognized:[14][1][15]


The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833).

Distribution and habitat[edit]

All species are endemic to central and southern Africa, from Nigeria to Tanzania and South Africa. Z. aethiopica grows naturally in marshy areas and is only deciduous when water becomes scarce. It grows continuously when watered and fed regularly and can survive periods of minor frosts. Z. aethiopica is a very strong and sturdy plant, being able to grow in many soils and habitats, multiplying by rhizome-offsets; it is naturalised and regarded as a weed throughout much of the world. Z. odorata is a rare species, resembling Z. aethiopica, but deciduous and smelling like freesia, endemic to a few localities in South Africa. Z. albomaculata is a widespread and variable species, growing from South Africa north to Kenya, varying in shades of white to cream and pink to orange-shades. Z. jucunda and Z. pentlandii are rare species with large yellow showy flowers. Z. rehmannii is a pink-flowered species with sword shaped leaves. Z. elliotiana is known from horticultural sources only and is probably of hybrid origin.


Zantedeschia was introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century as Z. aethiopica,[6] and is now widely naturalised[1][16] in Europe,[17] North America, Central America, South America, Oceania, and Australasia. In many places it is considered a dangerous invasive species that displaces native vegetation.[18] In the South-West of Western Australia, Z. aethiopica was introduced for horticulture, but has become a widespread and conspicuous weed of watercourses, heath, and wet pastures to the extent that it has been declared a pest in Western Australia and landowners must control it and attempts to sell plants must be reported.[19] Zantedeschia in North America is primarily grown as ornamental cultivars in home gardens.[10]


Z. aethiopica grows naturally in marshy areas and is only deciduous when water becomes scarce. It grows continuously when watered and fed regularly and can survive periods of minor frosts. Z. aethiopica is a very strong and sturdy plant, being able to grow in many soils and habitats, multiplying by rhizome-offsets.


All Zantedeschia produce large, showy flowers spathes and are often grown both as ornamental plants and for cut flowers. Zantedeschia are relatively hardy plants, but some are more winter-hardy than others. In this regard there may be considered two groups, a hardy outdoor group with large white flowers (arum lilies) and less hardy group with white-spotted leaves and flowers in many colours (calla lilies), such as yellow, orange, pink and purple.[20]

Hardy forms (arum lilies)[edit]

These include Zantedeschia aethiopica and Zantedeschia pentlandii and their cultivars. Zantedeschia aethiopica and some of its relatives can survive at minimum winter temperatures below -23 °C (USDA Zone 6) and many others can be grown in even warmer areas where all the ground does not freeze (USDA Zone 7).[20] Z. pentlandii hybrids include 'Millennium Gold'.[21]

Tender forms (calla lilies)[edit]

The more tender specimens are mainly cultivars (hybrids) of Zantedeschia elliotiana and Zantedeschia rehmannii (referred to as elliotiana or rehmannii cultivars or hybrids, or as e.g. Z. × rehmanii), but also Zantedeschia albomaculata and Zantedeschia jucunda. These less hardy forms can only survive winter temperatures to −12 °C (Zones 8). This plant must be grown as tender bulbs or houseplants in cooler areas. Species and hybrids between Z. elliotiana, Z. jucunda, Z. pentlandii and Z. rehmannii appear to have an optimum temperature for growth near 25 °C, with growth being suppressed once daily average temperatures persist at 28 °C.[20][22]

Zantedeschia × rehmanii 'Neon Amour'
Zantedeschia elliotiana × maculata 'Lemon Drop'

Z. rehmannii hybrids include 'Amethyst',[23] 'Crystal Blush'[24] and 'Neon Amour',[25] while an example of a Z. elliotiana × Z. rehmannii hybrid would be 'Blaze'.[26] Z. elliotiana × Z. maculata hybrids include 'Lemon Drop'.[27] Z. elliotiana hybrids include 'Solar Flare'.[28]

Seasonal grouping[edit]

Other classifications consider two groups based on their seasonal habits. Zantedeschia aethiopica and Zantedeschia odorata form one group (Group I) typified by retaining their leaves in winter, and flowering from late winter to late spring, while the remaining species (Group II) are in leaf from spring to late autumn shedding their leaves in winter (deciduous) and flower during the summer. Zantedeschia aethiopica may retain its leaves all year round (evergreen), otherwise from autumn to late summer, while Zantedeschia odorata retains its leaves from late winter to late spring. The two groups also vary according to the arrangement of the male and female organs. In the first group they are arranged together in the lower part of the spadix, whereas in the latter they are separate, with the female at the base. The Z. aethiopica group also have a fruit that turns soft and orange, whereas the other retains a firm green fruit.[5]


Zantedeschia shares the general properties of the family Araceae in causing contact irritation. Zantedeschia species are also poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals in the form of raphides. All parts of the plant are poisonous, typically producing local irritation or a burning sensation in the mouth and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea.[29][30] However leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten.[10][31]


Zantedeschia bridal bouquet with mixed flowers

Extensive commercial production of Zantedeschia for cut flowers and/or planting material occurs in California, Colombia, New Zealand and Kenya.[22] Plant breeders in California and New Zealand continue to produce an extensive range of new hybrid cultivars. The so-called white calla derived from Z. aethiopica. All varieties with flowers with shades of yellow, orange, red, purple are mainly derived from Z. albomaculata, Z. pentlandii, Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmanni.


Zantedeschia has often been used in paintings and is featured in many of Diego Rivera's works of art (see The Flower Vendor, amongst others). It was a favourite subject of the painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

During the flower language boom in the Victorian era, there were strict social codes and flowers were considered the best medium to express feelings. Flowers delivered their messages subtly and every aspect of flower-gifting carried specific meanings, from the person who made the offer to the way the flowers were arranged. Each type of flower was associated with a specific, symbolic meaning. Due to the calla lily's resemblance to female genitalia, a gift of calla lily delivered an overtly sexual message. This meaning was popularized by admirers like Freud and artists like Georgia O'Keeffe.[32]


  1. ^ a b c Zantedeschia Spreng. in World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  2. ^ "Index Nominum Genericorum". Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  3. ^ Govaerts, Rafael; Frodin, David G. (2002). "World Checklist and Bibliography of Araceae (and Acoraceae)". The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  4. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i K.A. Funnell (2006) [1994]. "The genus Zantedeschia. Botanical Classification and Morphology". New Zealand Calla Council. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Aubrey, Alice (2001). "Zantedeschia aethiopica (L.) Spreng". Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Adolf Engler, ed. (1915). "58. Zantedeschia". Das Pflanzenreich: regni vegetablilis conspectus (in Latin). Vol. 64 IV. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann Verlag. p. 61. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  8. ^ Govaerts, Rafael; Frodin, David G. (2002). "World Checklist and Bibliography of Araceae (and Acoraceae)". The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  9. ^ Podbielkowski, Zbigniew (1989). "Kallijka etiopska". Słownik roślin użytkowych (in Polish). Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Rolnicze i Leśne. p. 138. ISBN 83-09-00256-4.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Burrows, George E.; Ronald J. Tyrl (2012). "Zantedeschia". Toxic Plants of North America (2 ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1118413395. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  11. ^ "New Zealand Calla Council Leaf Shape Images: (a) lanceolate, (b) ovate, (c) triangular, and (d) hastate. Heavy maculation is also present in (c) and (d) and medium maculation in (b)". Archived from the original on 2015-01-14. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  12. ^ Botanicas Annuals & Perennils, Random House, Sydney, 2005, ISBN 0-09-183809-6 pp. 938
  13. ^ Mayo, Simon; Bogner, Justin; Boyce, Peter (January 1997). The Genera of Araceae. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. ISBN 1-900347-22-9.
  14. ^ Stevens, Peter F. "Angiosperm Phylogeny Website". Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  15. ^ "African flowering plants database". Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Ville de Genève. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
  16. ^ "Zantedeschia aethiopica". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  17. ^ "Biological Collection Access Service for Europe". Freie Universität Berlin. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  18. ^ Comité français de l'UICN, IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (2008). "Global Invasive Species Database". Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Arum lily: Declared pest".
  20. ^ a b c Royal Horticultural Society: Zantedeschia
  21. ^ Pacific Callas: Millennium Gold
  22. ^ a b Funnell, K.A. 1993. Zantedeschia, p.683-739. In: A.A. De Hertogh & M. Le Nard (eds.) The physiology of flower 'bulbs'. Elsevier Scientific Publishers, Amsterdam
  23. ^ Pacific Callas: Amethyst
  24. ^ Pacific Callas: Crystal Blush
  25. ^ Pacific Callas: Neon Amour
  26. ^ Pacific Callas: Blaze
  27. ^ Pacific Callas: Lemon Drop
  28. ^ Pacific Callas: Solar Flare
  29. ^ Slaughter RJ, Beasley DM, Lambie BS, Wilkins GT, Schep LJ (December 2012). "Poisonous plants in New Zealand: a review of those that are most commonly enquired about to the National Poisons Centre". The New Zealand Medical Journal. 125 (1367): 87–118. PMID 23321887. Archived from the original on 2013-01-09.
  30. ^ Miles, Jackie (2002-09-12). "Arum or calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica )". South Coast Weeds. Eurobodalla Shire Council. Archived from the original on 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2007-11-18.
  31. ^ Plants for a Future: Zantedeschia aethiopica - (L.)Spreng.
  32. ^ "Calla Lily Meaning & Cala Lily Flower Symbols in the Language of Flowers." Calla Lily Meaning & Cala Lily Flower Symbols in the Language of Flowers. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2014.

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