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What is a Calla Lily?

Mutlicolored bouquwt of beautiful cala lilies

Zantedeschia Species

The calla lily is not actually a true lily from the genus liliaceae, but instead it is a member of the genus araceae that consists of 8 different species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants. The calla lily is also sometimes known under the name of arum lily.

This extraordinarily beautiful flower is often used in bridal bouquets or flower arrangements for formal events. They are also a very resilient outdoor plant and are often used in garden beds, as a border plant, as a container plant, or as a statement piece for a front window.

If you were under the impression that a flower so beautiful must be difficult to care for, I am here to tell you otherwise! Considering it is such an impressive plant, it is surprisingly easy to grow. Once you’ve learned about zantedeschia aethiopica and others, head on over to our list of Amazing Flowering Plants from all over the world to see what else you can incorporate into your garden, porch pots, or apartment balcony.

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Why is it Called a Calla Lily?

Calla is derived from the ancient greek word for “beautiful”, and the beauty of this flower comes with a lovely greek mythology describing its origins.

It is said that Zeus brought his baby son, Hercules, to the greek goddess, Hera, who was not Hercules’ mother. Hercules needed milk as an infant, and so Zeus approached Hera while she was sleeping (we acknowledge that is being weird, but hey, myths, right?).

Hera awoke to see Hercules at her chest, and when she pushed him away, drops of milk flew across the sky, and this is how the milky way was created. Some other drops of milk fell to the ground and grew into calla lilies.

Venus, the goddess of love and passion, saw these calla lilies and was immediately jealous of their beauty. She cursed them by causing them to grow their large, yellow pistils in the centre of their flowers to offset their beauty.

Close up black and white photo of white calla lily flower

What are the 8 Specie of the Genus Zantedeschia?

1. Zantedeschia Aethiopica – one of the most common of the genus araceae, this is the giant white arum lily or the common arum lily. They are endemic to South Africa and Swaziland.

2. Zantedeschia Albomaculata – the spotted arum lily is usually an ivory white color with very faint spots on their large green leaves. They are a widespread plant species occurring naturally from South Africa to Nigeria and Tanzania.

3. Zantedeschia Elliottianna – the yellow lily or golden arum lily. This is a rare species that can be found in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

4. Zantedeschia Jucunda – this is lily that can either be very faint yellow or very dark yellow, paired with spotted green leaves. They are a rare variety that grow naturally in the Leolo mountains of South Africa.

5. Zantedeschia Odorata – a white arum lily that is a rare winter growing variety with a delectably sweet smell. They only grow in the Western Cape province.

6. Zantedeschia Pentlandii – commonly known as the mapoch lily, this dark yellow lily is native to the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

7. Zantedeschia Rehmannii – one of the most beautiful of all the lily species, this variety grows flowers that are a creamy, blush pink color. They are relatively widespread and can be found growing in Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa.

8. Zantedeschia Valida – a rare arum lily the have a cream colored flower and broad green leaves with prominent speckles. They grow naturally in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa.

Red orange pink and rose colored calla lilies all bundled in a tight bouquet

What do Calla Lilies Look Like?


Calla lilies have the most incredible looking flowers, which it turns out, are not actually the flower of the plant! This is called a pseudanthium, or a false flower. The main feature of the plant is actually called a spathe, which is a specialized petal like bract.

The spathe is a showy funnel shaped petal that can be anywhere from white, yellow, orange, pink, rose, lavender, or dark maroon. In the centre of the spathe is where the true flowers lie, the spadix.

Both the spathe and the spadix are borne above the leaves on a fleshy flower stem. The flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, growing on a thick, usually yellow colored stem. These are a non blooming type of flower.

These spadix flowers are monoecious, meaning that a single flower can carry both male sexual characteristics (staminate) and female sexual characteristics (pistillate).


The calla lily has foliage that remains neat and attractive all year long. A leaf is a sword shape with a smooth texture. Leaves have petioles that are spongy and long, and usually sheathed at the base. A leaf is a dark green color with feathery veins.

Depending on the species of calla lily, the length and details will be different, though they often are decorated with spots. Leaves can a variety of shapes as well; simple, elongated, triangular, ovate, elliptic, oblong, circular, or even heart or spear shaped.

Growth Pattern

Depending on the species, the calla lily plant can sometimes grow to be over a metre tall. Their long leaves conceal the bottommost part of the single thick stem that holds the flower (spadix and spathe) of the plant.

Pair of pristine white calla lily blossoms growing in centre of large dark green leaves

How does the Calla Lily Reproduce?

The calla lily has monoecious flowers, meaning that a single flower can carry both male sexual characteristics (staminate) and female sexual characteristics (pistillate).

The spathe of the flower is that aspect that attracts pollinators to the area. These flowers have a wonderful scent and an enticing shape for bees, wasps, hummingbirds, and moths.

Where do Calla Lilies Grow?

Calla lilies are a native plant to South Africa, and grow very prosperously in Nigeria and Tanzania. Here the climate is especially favorable for the plants, though they are miraculously hardy and sturdy.

These plants have now been introduced to every continent (except for Antartica) and have been naturalized in Europe, South America, Central America, North America, Oceania, and Australasia as well.

They can be found growing naturally in very marshy and wet areas that receive a lot of heat. In southern regions that are an evergreen plant (foliage that persists and remains green all year long), whereas in northern regions they are a deciduous plant (foliage that dies and falls away seasonally). They grow in USDA zone 8 through 10.

Remarkable field of white calla lilies growing in the calla lily reserve in Big Sur California

How do you Grow a Calla Lily Plant?

The calla lily is an awesome plant. Not only is it beautiful, it can behave as either an annual or a perennial plant. It is remarkably easy to grow and easy for to care for as well! Follow these very simple steps and you could have your own calla lily blossoms in no time.


– Wait until spring to plant your calla lily, be sure that the last threat of spring frost has passed, and that the soil has warmed up enough as well.

– The first step is to find the most appropriate area to plant your calla lily. This can be indoors, outdoors, as a container plant, or in a pot.

– Ensure that in warmer climates the plant is placed in an area that receives partial shade, whereas in cooler climates that the plant is placed in an area that receives full sun.

– Soil should be loose and well drained. Planting should be done at least half a metre apart, and seeds should be at least 4 inches deep in the soil.

– Once seeds are sown, they should be watered often – soil should never become dry. Germination should occur in 2-3 weeks.

– From here, some additional boosters can come in the from of monthly fertilizer, or spreading mulch around the plants to prevent weeds.

Several white planters containing large calla lily plants with three flowers and large green bushy leaves growing in front of windowsill


One really cool aspect about calla lilies is that they grow from rhizomes. A rhizome is a bulb like tuber root that grows under the ground. This calla lily bulb can be saved and replanted the following spring, turning this naturally annual plant into a perennial.

– Once the flower has finished blossoming, it will require a dormancy period. When this happens, refrain from watering the plant and let it die back completely.

– If growing outside, dig up the rhizomes in the later summer and brush away all of the soil. Let them dry out in the for a few days before storing them.

– Store these tender bulbs in peat moss in a dark, dry, and cool area.

– If growing calla lilies indoors as a houseplant, simply cease watering completely and move the pot to an area that is dark, dry, and cool.

– Once the following spring returns, these calla lily bulbs can be planted right back in their original spot, and should be blooming in not time!

Multicolored calla lilies growing in amazing stand with large spotted green leaves

What are the Growing Conditions of a Calla Lily Plant?

Soil Type

The calla lily is a plant that prefers to exist in soils that are both loose and well drained. They grow best when soil is high in nutrients and organic matter. Ensure that wet soil is particularly well drained.

Sun Exposure

Ensure that in warmer climates, the plant is placed in an area that receives partial shade, whereas in colder climates, that the plant is placed in an area that receives full sun.

Water Level

Calla lilies are a water loving plant, and their soil should always be moist. Especially when they are first getting established in an area, they can be watered once or twice a day.

They can pretty much exist in any climate as long as they are receiving enough annual precipitation or are being watered sufficiently to have consistently moist soil.

That being said, if you are looking to keep your calla lily rhizomes for the following spring, let the plant dry out and go dormant completely.

Impressive garden of neat white calla lily flowers growing at the ends of straight green stems


In warmer climates, the foliage of the calla lily can persist and remain green all year long, whereas in cooler climates the foliage will die away when the winter weather arrives. They will usually go dormant when temperatures dip below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.


Calla lilies do very well when they are fertilized. Keeping the soil fertile during their growing season will help ensure that blossoms are productive and long lasting. These plants can be fertilized monthly.


Calla lilies grow in a naturally in a very neat shape, and do not need to be pruned whatsoever. They do not even need to be deadheaded at the end of the season, as digging up their rhizomes and replanting them is the way to ensure you will have late spring blossoms the following year.


The calla lily is such a resilient and hardy plant that it truly has no intolerances other than drought, though even then they are able to handle a dry season as long as it is temporary. Growing calla lily can be done by any level of expertise gardener, and having the access to cut flower from one of these plants will ensure your ability to brighten anyones day.

Beautiful bouquet of bright orange calla lily flowers against a white background

How are Calla Lilies Used?


There is a singular use for the calla lily, and that is as an ornamental plant. It would be difficult to name a flower that is more striking and elegant than the calla lily.

The calla lily flower makes for a beautiful feature in a bridal bouquet or a formal floral arrangement. When they are not being wrapped up in a pretty bow, they are often used as a garden showstopper, as a border plant, or taking centre stage as a container plant or in the main window of a home.

Exquisite bridal bouquet of white calla lilies laying on a stone sidewalk