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The Calla Lily

Jewels of the summer. That describes the calla lily. These elegant flowers are so chic.

Ignore the name. Callas aren’t lilies at all. They’re grown as a tender summer bulb in cool climates. Native to South Africa, they are hardy only in warmer areas, zones 9 to 11 in the U.S. Each plant will produce numerous sturdy, stiff stems for cutting.

Once associated with funerals, they were known as the trumpet lily as a reminder of the Archangel Gabriel and his trumpet.

The word calla comes from the Greek term for beautiful, which aptly describes this classy flower.

White was once the most popular color for callas. It has become very popular for weddings.

Now there are so many colors available. These include both hot and cool tones. My favorites are the soft pinks. Other shades include red, orange, yellow, lavender, and even green. There are also multicolored varieties available.

'Crystal Blush' is an ivory with very slight tinges of pink. 'Parfait' varies in color somewhat. The blooms can range from pink creams to deep rose.

The classic calla has an intriguing urn-shaped flower. However, the shape varies somewhat in certain varieties. 'Neon Amour' has elongated blooms with slightly wavy edges.

These classy flowers can add a touch of drama to a room. They are so distinctive. It isn’t necessary to use the usual fillers and foliage with them.

Generally most calla stems are two to three feet tall. But there are exceptions. The stems of dwarf varieties can be under a foot in height. Most will be two to four inches in diameter.

If you’re getting callas from your own cutting garden, harvest the stems when the flowers are about three-fourths open.

If you’re looking for flowers with a long vase life, this is the one. When harvested fresh, they can last for nearly two weeks.

How can you prolong the vase life? Add water to the container on a regular basis. Re-cut the stems every couple days. This will help prevent the ends from curling up.

Perhaps you’ve heard that callas are poisonous. Yes, it’s true. All parts of the plant are toxic. Do wash your hands after you’ve been working with the stems.

Callas have captivated Americans for over a century. Artists and photographers couldn’t get enough of them. Georgia O’Keeffe did much to promote their popularity by depicting them in her paintings. She became known as “The Lady of the Lily.”

Her crucial role is revealed in a groundbreaking book, “Georgia O’Keeffe and the Calla Lily in American Art, 1860-1940” by Barbara Buhler Lynes. She is curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Published by Yale University Press, it also contains essays by Charles C. Eldredge and James Moore. This stunning book presents the engrossing story of O’Keeffe’s relationship to this plant. It includes photos of fifty-four works by various artists and photographers, including nine paintings by O’Keeffe.

Enjoy those callas. They’re the hottest thing going in home décor. They’re often depicted in magazine ads for upscale products.


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