Canna indica

canna lily


Canna indica

L. 1753

pronounced: KAN-nuh IN-dik-uh

(Cannaceae — the canna family)


common names: canna lily, Indian shot

The Canna lily is not a lily! Canna originates from the Celtic word for a cane or reed. Canna is a genus of about 20 species of flowering plants. The closest relatives of the canna are the plant families of the order Zingiberales, i.e. the gingers, bananas, heliconias, strelitzias, etc. Canna is the only genus in the family Cannaceae. This plant is a native of the Caribbean and tropical Americas.

Members of the species have large, attractive foliage, and horticulturalists have turned it into a large-flowered, brash, bright and sometimes gaudy garden plant.

Cannas are perennials that grow from thick underground rhizomes. The flowers grow up through tightly furled leaf bases or pseudostems. Modern canna hybrids come in four different sizes: pixie (45 – 60 cm), dwarf (60 – 100 cm), medium (1 – 1.5 m) and tall (1.5 – 2 m). They come in all colours except blue, green and black. The foliage may be green, blue-green, purple, burgundy, bronze or striped.

Cannas grow in most areas of Australia, and look best planted in blocks of a single colour in front of a wall or hedge. In cool areas the plants die back in winter, but readily re-grow when the warmer weather returns. As well as offering great variety, they are also low maintenance plants. They can escape from gardens into the wild – Canna indica, for instance, has become naturalized in bushland in several parts of Australia. The hybrids are less likely to escape.

The seeds are small, globular, black pellets, hard and heavy enough to sink in water. They resemble shotgun pellets, giving rise to the plant's common name of Indian Shot. They are widely used for jewellery. The seeds are also used as the mobile elements of the kayamb, a musical instrument from Réunion, as well as the hosho, a gourd rattle from Zimbabwe, where the seeds are known as hota seeds.

Most cannas like a sunny position, but those with off-white flowers prefer dappled shade. Most gardeners remove the spent flower heads to maintain an attractive display, and like to lift and divide the rhizomes about every third year. Especially in cooler climates, many gardeners cut the plants right back to within a few centimetres of the ground at the end of the flowering season.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2011
Page last updated 28th October 2018