Calla Lilies’ simplistic beauty has been the inspiration for many paintings. Calla blooms are associated with peace, serenity, and fertility. The Greek name for the calla lily even means beautiful, and according to mythology, its origins are linked to Zeus and Hera. In reality, the calla lily is not a lily. Likewise, the bloom is not a true flower but an adapted leaf called a spathe.
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) are native to Southern Africa and go by names like lily of the Nile, pig lily, and garden calla. Calla lilies belong to the Araceae plant family, along with more than four thousand other species. There are eight species of calla lilies, with many cultivars within these species.
In their natural environment, calla lilies are mostly white with a yellow spike or spadix in the center. Cultivars of calla are available in many more colors, though. Calla lily colors, aside from white, may range from cream to shades of orange, pink, red, and maroon. In some varieties, the maroon color is so dark that it appears black.
Related: Are Calla Lilies Poisonous?
Calla lilies grow from rhizomes and are perennial plants in regions with frost-free winters. In colder regions, calla lilies must be lifted and stored through winter and grown as annual plants. Alternatively, calla lilies make beautiful indoor plants and can be planted in containers that can be brought indoors for winter.
Calla lilies love to grow on the banks of streams and ponds or in marshy habitats. They grow between two and three feet tall with arrow-shaped leaves that can grow as big as eighteen inches. The size that calla lilies grow to depends on the amount of sun and shade exposure. Calla lilies that grow in the shade tend to grow taller.
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Calla lilies attract many insects with a feint scent to assist with pollination. White crab spiders and tiny frogs also assist with cross-pollination while waiting inside the calla lily for the many insects that visit these trumpet-shaped flowers. Many plants resemble some of the characteristics of calla lilies. Let’s explore a few of them.
1. Arum Lily
While calla lilies are often called arum lilies, true arum lilies belong to a different genus within the Araceae family. Arum lilies (Arum maculatum) are native to Turkey, Europe, and the Caucasus and are a little more tolerant to cold weather than calla lilies.
Arum lilies grow between twelve and eighteen inches tall. Unlike calla lilies, the blooms of the arum lily are less varied in color. In place of the bright yellow spadix in a calla lily, the arum spadix is most often purple. The spathe of an arum lily is most often green on the outside with a pale cream or light purple interior.
Arum lilies attract pollinators to the flower through an unpleasant odor released when the plant raises its temperature. Insects get trapped inside the flower and coated in male pollen while trying to free themselves. The insects are soon attracted to another flower to repeat the process and ensure cross-pollination.
2. Peace Lily
Like calla lilies, the peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) is not a true lily. Peace lilies are called white sails, closet plants, and spathe flowers. Peace lilies are native to Asia and the Americas, but due to the ease of keeping and maintaining these beautiful plants, peace lilies have spread to almost every continent.
As with calla lilies, the bloom of the peace lily is a modified leaf called a spathe. The spathe of the peace lily may appear light green when just opening, but once the flower is mature, it develops into a pure white color.
True lilies from the Liliaceae family are far more toxic than peace lilies. Like calla lilies, all peace lilies contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause gastric distress and discomfort if ingested but are only mildly toxic to humans and pets.
Related: 7 Plants That Look Like Peace Lily
Anthurium flowers are beautiful and unusual. The shiny bloom looks like it has a wax coating and could not possibly be real. Common names for anthuriums include tailflower, lace leaf, and flamingo flower. There are around one thousand species of Anthurium to choose from, most of which are native to Argentina, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Like calla lilies, the spike-shaped spadix is the true flower, and the brightly colored spathe is an adapted leaf. A red-colored spathe is common in only two species, with many varieties and hybrids bred to produce brightly colored spathes. Varieties now include colors like cream, orange, pink, and black.
Most species of anthuriums are epiphytes and, as such, grow on other plants, though some species do grow in soil. Anthurium plants often do not support themselves and like to grow against a post or a trellis. Like calla lilies, anthuriums are toxic if eaten because they contain calcium oxalate.
Jack-in-the-pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) may also be called by names such as Indian turnip, brown dragon, or bog onion. Jack-in-the-pulpit is native to North America and Canada and is perennial in nature. Jack-in-the-pulpit plants are grown from corms or from seed, though it takes up to three years for a plant grown from seed to mature and bloom.
The spadix of a Jack-in-the-pulpit flower is purple, and the spathe is often stripped, ranging in color from cream or green spathes with brown or purple stripes. The spathe extends higher than the spadix and then folds over to cover the spadix.
The Jack-in-the-pulpit plant grows around one to two feet tall, and the stalks and leaves are fleshy like a calla lily. Jack-in-the-pulpit leaves divide to form a tri foliate or three-part leaf that grows taller than the bloom to create shade for the bloom. Flies or gnats usually pollinate flowers, and these unusual plants are able to change gender.
5. Night-Scented Lily
Night-scented lilies (Alocasia odora) are also called Asian taro or giant upright elephant ear. These members of the Araceae family are native to parts of Asia, where they can grow as tall as thirty feet. Despite being called taro, the plant is not edible due to the amount of calcium oxalate it contains.
While the plant is much taller than a calla lily, the leaves of a night-scented lily have a similar shape and a flower shape to that of calla lilies. Flowers of the night-scented lilies have the same spathe and spadix composition as calla lilies, and the spathes are light peach in color.
As the name indicates, the night-scented lily blooms at night, and the flower releases a wonderful fragrance to attract nocturnal pollinators. Like calla lilies, the night-scented lily plant grows from a rhizome and enjoys growing along rivers, next to ponds, and in swampy areas.
6. Black Elephant Ears
Black elephant ear plants (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’) are an ornamental variety of taro that produces deep purple-black leaves. Both calla lilies and black elephant ear plants have similar leaf shapes, but the leaves of calla lilies point upward while the elephant ear plant points down.
Related: Are Elephant Ears Poisonous?
The black elephant ear plant grows between three and six feet tall, and this perennial plant is native to Asia and India. Like calla lilies, the black elephant ear grows from rhizomes or corms. Taro corms are cooked to remove calcium oxalate and are a crucial food source in many parts of Africa and Asia.
While black elephant ears are usually planted for their unusual foliage, the flowers are an added reward. Blooms are a combination of a spadix and a spathe, and in contrast to this plant’s dark foliage, the blooms are usually green or cream-colored.