“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower … beautiful for any occasion.”
Katherine Hepburn, Stage Door, 1937
I have no idea what Katherine Hepburn was thinking about when she so famously branded the calla lilies, ‘such a strange flower’, but I too think it a bit strange. Strange, and Beautiful, and … Exotic. And, in my own experience, for such an exotically beautiful flower, it is strangely hardy, and easy to grow – for once it has established itself, like a stubborn weed, it is difficult to discourage it from returning, no matter how much you try. I guess what I’m saying is that one may look at the calla lily in bloom and assume that it is delicate, and fragile, or in some way difficult to grow – Nope! Quite the opposite. Callas, here in Oregon, often display their hardy character by holding their green leafy foliage right through the moderate winters of the Pacific Northwest, but suffer most during the very dry summers, unless given sufficient irrigation – with just a little help, callas can be persuaded to bloom several times a year, even all year long.
The calla lily has quite an interesting background and history – its origins have been traced back to the wet, wild areas of southern Africa, but it eventually was established throughout the African continent, where it acquired the common name, ‘Lily of the Nile’. It has become associated with weddings, no doubt due to its exotic, pristine look – however, that innocent look masks the flower’s quite toxic character – if consumed, any part of the plant or flower can bring a painful death. Callas are also commonly found among funeral bouquets, and as one of the lilies most commonly associated with Easter religious services – and strangely again, the calla has long served as a badge of, and a commemorative symbol of those who died in the service of, the IRA (Irish Republican Army).
When we moved to our present home in 2001, there was quite a nice bed of callas and rhododendron growing almost right where our new septic tank wound be going – all of those would have to be moved. The guys who dug the hole for the tank were kind enough to move the rhodies for us, but they left the smaller callas for us to deal with. Since the callas were only about two feet tall, I thought they’d move easily – Ha! These babies must have had at least 10 years in this location, and they obviously felt that this was their permanent home – what an extensive root system! I remember having to use a machete on them to separate the huge plants into smaller parts for replanting – and I remember thinking at the time, ‘Golly, I bet I’ve damaged these so much that they’ll die in their new homes.’ Ha, what a joke!
I’m here to tell you that what I’ve learned is that the calla lily is SO HARDY, that if I had subjected these calla roots to a tree shredding machine, before transplanting, they’d still have reappeared the next season. Each year, I go back to that previous home of the callas, and there’s several new callas popping up! From what? How is this possible? I practically sifted the soil there, so, what’s the source of these new plants? I’ve determined it’s magic.
I’ve now moved the callas three times – and rather than suffer shock from the transplant process, these plants have -in their first full year in their newest home – responded by giving their most magnificent display of blooms ever!
I love these things. I needed something in the corner of my lot that would be low maintenance, but give our neighbors, who were picking up their mail daily, something nice to look at (the callas fill a bed directly behind a long row of mail boxes). They’re more than perfect here – the bloom rises about 4 feet high, just high enough to show magnificently behind the mail boxes – and the heavy mass of leafy foliage at the base of the plant combines with enough of its kin to block out any other unwanted plants in the bed.
I love them – and I hope our neighbors do too -it’s a magnificent show.