The Calla Lilies are Blooming Again
As I've roamed around Florida this past year giving talks and participating in garden fests to promote my book, Sustainable Gardening for Florida, I have related the story of my complete failure at growing tulips here in northeastern Florida.
Long-time Florida gardeners laugh knowingly at my tulip blunder-many of them have been through the same process of working out what works here in Florida and what does not. You can't necessarily trust big box stores or nurseries to offer you plants that will actually work here. I bought those original tulips at a big box store and followed the instructions on the packaging for Florida, but of the 48 bulbs I planted, only one leaf sprouted.
Don't cry for me though; I have learned to love the place where I am and have found some wonderful bulbs that I can plant here that would have been difficult, if not impossible back in Maryland or New England.
Ever since I first heard Katherine Hepburn say, "The calla lilies are in bloom again..." in the movie "Stage Door," I've wanted to have some in my garden. Here in north Florida, our climate is perfect for these beauties. Even their spotted, arrow-shaped leaves are attractive.
Calla lilies are not true lilies, which have six tepals (Tepals are petals and sepals which are the same size and color.) as we discussed in A Plant by Any Common Name, but are part of the Araceae plant family also known as Arums. The flowers are grouped in an inflorescence mounted on a thick stalk, which is underlain or surrounded by a spathe. The spathe, a modified leaf, can be relatively flat as in the peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp) or it can wrap around the inflorescence like the calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica). The spathe can also be shaped like a hood as in a jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema spp). The whole flowering structure is called a spadix. Note the double spathe in the orange and yellow calla in my bouquet.
Most members of the Araceae family contain oxalate crystals, which are irritants and may be toxic. Ironically the tubers and roots of some members of this family such as wild taro (Colocasia esculenta) have been extensively used as a basic food. It must be dried and cooked to break up the crystals. Taro was imported from India to feed the slaves and now it's one of Florida's most invasive weeds.
Other members of this widespread and well-known family include: athuriums (Anthurium andreanum), skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia picta), philodendrons (Philodendron spp), split-leafed philodendron (Monstera deliciosa), Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema spp),and caladiums (Caladium bicolor).
These bright orange and yellow cannas (Canna x generalis) came with the house. I bought some of the yellow, native canna lilies (C. flaccida) at one of the Florida Native Plant Society chapter meetings where I spoke. But until the native blooms, I have plenty of these gaudy cultivars to enjoy. To me the flowers look like large irises gone flamboyant. Again this is not a true lily. Canna is the only genus in its family, Cannaceae.
They are good multipliers here, but grow best in moist habitats. I would have had to dig these out every winter up in Maryland and I'm not a patient enough gardener to have plants that need to be fussed over. Here, I just cut them down in the fall if I think of it. They and make quite a statement in the gardens.
I've written about rain lilies before in my rain garden article, but I'm including them here, because I do enjoy them so.
This photo is of the native rain lily (Zephyranthes atamasca), but I have also bought some yellow rain lilies (Z. citrina), which are native to Mexico and some pink one (Z. grandiflora), which are native to Central America.
I love having rain lilies in my yard, because you never know exactly when you'll see them-they tend to sprout only after a good rain. Maybe this is why they are called fairy lilies or zephyr lilies. The rain lilies belong to the amaryllis family Amaryllidaceae and are closer to a true lily than the cannas or callas because they have the classic lily flower consisting of six tepals.
Another gorgeous member of the amaryllis family, the hurricane lily (Lycoris radiata) shows up in the fall garden long after its leaves have died back. The flowers are borne on two-foot tall naked stems and after it blooms, the leaves sprout and last through the winter and into the spring. That makes it easier to plant new spring bulbs around these lilies since the leaves still show.
Don't you just love their extra long, curving anthers? Sometimes it's called a spider lily because those anthers evoke spider legs. These scarlet beauties sure do add spark to the tired fall landscape when many other flowers have passed their peak.
I have at least two types of these lilies and maybe a third, but it hasn't bloomed yet, so I don't know. The string lilies, often referred to as crinum lilies, are also members of the amaryllis family. The one in the photo is one of the hybrids (Crinum X powellii). I also have a native to South Africa that has bright red streaks down the center of each tepal (C. bulispermum). It's one of the two crinums used to to create the original Powell hybrid.
I'm hoping the one that has not bloomed as yet is the native (C. americanum), which is has white flowers with narrow tepals. It's also known as seven sisters lily or the swamp string lily.
I love these bulbs-the fragrant Mexican single tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa). Members of the agave family, Agavaceae, they grow to almost three feet tall. They flower at night and that's when they are the most fragrant and their waxy white flowers seem to glow in the dusky light. The flowers stay open until morning, but then close up during the heat of the day.
They have been widely used in the perfume trade. An article in this week's NY Times, Making Flowers into Perfume, relates how you can do it yourself. Not my cup of tea, but nice to know.
I Don't Cry Over My Failed Tulips
I walk quickly by the tulip bulb displays in the stores and nurseries in the fall these days. I know better now and isn't that what gardening's about, learning and experimenting until you find what works best in your own yard? I have so many wonderful bulbs here to enjoy. After all, we live in the land of the flowers. Juan Ponce de Leon recognized that when he landed here in northeastern Florida in April 1513. He called this area "la Florida" in honor of Spain's Easter celebration "Pascua florida" (feast of the flowers). Indeed!
Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners here in northeast Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in planting zone 8/9. She's written a book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," published by University Press of Florida.