Calla calling!

By Ralph E. Mitchell

One flowering bulb that always catches my eye in the garden center spring bulb displays is the calla lily.  A member of the Aroid family, this flowering plant forms a spathe with a central spadix where the true flowers reside.  The colorful part of the calla is the spathe which forms a tubular lipped structure that shows off its splendor in full bloom.  The calla lily needs specific conditions to produce these unique “flowers” like no other plant.  Have you had difficulties with callas?  Read on!

In its native Africa, the calla lily lives in seasonally moist areas in full sunlight.  Callas grow best when given these conditions which may or may not exist in our landscapes here in Florida.  You can replicate these site conditions in your own outdoor location by using an eight-inch pot and any of the common sterile potting mediums.  Plant the rhizomes now for summer blooms about an inch deep and moisten the pots.   Then set the pots in tubs or pans of water – just set, not immersed – in a full sun location. You will either want to change the water regularly, or use some type of screening to keep mosquitoes out as this small body of water would make an ideal breeding area.  Actually, you are making a water garden as such and may even expand it into a small shallow pool.

You should experience lush, beautifully speckled foliage and hopefully colorful spathes in shades of pink and yellow – the most common colors.  There are many hybrids which offer shades of orange and apricot as well.  Sometimes it may take another season of growth to build up enough resources in the rhizomes to produce the flowers.  At the end of the growing season, the calla foliage will peter out and the plants will go dormant.   This is the  time to dry them out for the winter.

There is also a pure white-flowering variety of calla lily which is grown in the winter and spring, not summer, as it would in its native South Africa.

Like some ornamental plants, calla lilies are toxic as they contain oxalic acid and should be kept away from children and pets to prevent ingestion.  You can get both the dried rhizomes and started display plants at almost any garden center.  The long-lasting waxy flowers are worth the effort!  For more information on all types of flowering bulbs suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.     Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Essig F. B.  (2000) The Secret T0 Great Calla Lilies. University of South Florida in Tampa.
Nelson, J. S. (2009) Calla Lilies.  University of Illinois Extension

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