calla lily


Zantedeschia X

Spreng. 1826

pronounced: zan-tee-DESS-kee-uh hybrid

(Araceae — the arum family)


common name: calla lily

Zantedeschia was named by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833) as a tribute to the Italian physician and botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846). Zantedeschi published 10 volumes on the flora of the province of Breschia in northern Italy.

The genus is native to southern Africa, from South Africa north to Malawi. Common names include arum lily (for Z. aethiopica) and calla lily (for Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii), although they are not true lilies; nor are they true members of Arum or Calla, although related – those two genera are also in Araceae. The flowers of this striking calla suggest that its parentage includes Z. rehmannii, but that species has lanceolate leaves that are pure green with no variegation. The leaves of this plant are more suggestive of Z. albomaculata. All members of the genus are rhizomatous, and can grow up to 2.5 m tall with leaves 15 – 45 cm long. The inflorescence is a showy white, yellow or pink spathe shaped like a funnel, with a yellow central spadix.

dangerous 2All parts of these plants are toxic, due to the presence of calcium oxalate, a poisonous substance that produces irritation and swelling of the mouth and throat, acute vomiting, and diarrhoea. They are known to have caused the deaths of cattle and children.

Eight species of Zantedeschia are currently recognized:

Z. aethiopica, giant white arum lily. This acts like an evergreen in regions with plentiful rain; but performs like a deciduous plant in areas with dry seasons. Its foliage is dark green with 40 cm long arrow-shaped leaves. The spathe is pure white, the spadix golden. In many parts, particularly in the south-west parts of Western Australia, it has become a widespread weed of watercourses, heathland and wetter pastures.
      • Z. albomaculata, spotted arum lily. This is deciduous, with translucent white spots on its foliage. The flowers range in colour from ivory to cream and from pink to purple.
      • Z. elliottiana, golden arum lily. Leaves are oval, and decorated with white spots. The spathe is a golden yellow.
      • Z. jucunda. Leaves are triangular with oval-shaped blotches. Flowers are dark yellow with purplish spots.
      • Z. odorata. The spathes are white, and the large leaves are dark green.
      • Z. pentlandii. The leaves are yellowish green. The blossom is a narrow tubular spathe, lemon-yellow with purple spatter marks.
      • Z. rehmannii, pink arum lily. The lance-shaped leaves are up to 45 cm long, deep green with spots: its hybrids typically do not have spots. The flowers are white, pink, red or deep purple.
      • Z. valida. The leaves are lanceolate, a medium green with white spots. The spathe is a dark purple outside, but inside it is violet shading to pink, with raised bumps or pimples.

Clumps of Zantedeschia spread gradually from underground rhizomes. Dumping of garden waste can also spread the plant vegetatively. Seed is spread by birds or by water.

The Vine Hawk Moth Hippotion celerio and Tryon's Hawk Moth Theretra tryoni use this as a food plant for their larvae.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 28th April 2019