Saturday, September 13, 2014

Funeral flower, calla lily or death lily. Zantedeschia aethiopica. Weed plant or ornamental plant?

Old school ornamental garden plant Zantedeschia aethiopica

Zentedeschia aethiopica is a really classic plant that is found in many gardens in Melbourne Australia. It is one I associate with the 60s because it seems to be in lots of gardens that look like they were planted out in that era. Often when I look in the established gardens of old orange brick houses or Californian bungalows they seem to have a clump of these somewhere. Often they are amongst all the other old style plants that are no longer used in todays planting, things such as the red berried Catoniasta or mirror bush (Coprosma repens). I clearly remember clumps of funeral flowers growing in my Grandparents house so maybe that's also why I think of it as an old school plant. It is native to regions in southern Africa, has a height of potentially 1m and a clump may potentially spread to approximately also 1m. It is well known for its large white flowers consisting of a white spathe surrounding a yellow spadix.

Is the yellow spadix of Zantedeschia aethiopica poisonous? 

The short answer is yes. However according to information I've read on the Kew gardens website the whole plant is poisonous not just the spadix. Eating this plant can cause irritation, swelling of the mouth and acute diarrhoea. Not my idea of a good time.   

Common names for Zantedeschia aethiopica

The other gardeners I speak to today almost exclusively give this plant the rather plain moniker of arum lily. It has many common names, the most popular of which seem to be funeral flower, trumpet lily, calla lily and death lily. Funnily enough my own mother had funeral flowers at her wedding (I'm not sure if she knew of the flowers name).

A plant so hardy that it considered a weed in some parts of Australia

Yes it is considered a weed as it thrives along creek lines and wet areas in Western and South Australia. I was once told that it is comparable to Agapanthus orientalis in terms of it being an almost 'unkillable' plant in Victoria. It is a clump forming perennial which has underground rhizomes that it uses as an energy store to re shoot in the cooler months after dying down during the warm season. Propagation is incredibly easy as it is just a matter of dividing the rhizomes with a spade and replanting them.

Close up of the classic white spathe and yellow spadix.

A clump of Zantedeschia with a couple of flowers on display.

1 comment:

  1. I have to dig up my ornamental callas and keep them in the basement for the winter. They are considered exotic tropicals here and loved. I do keep one in the ground but it is Arum Italicum, a hardier plant. It also has a nice seed head in the fall. Thanks for the article.