Calla Lilies: How to Look After Them

This species, native to South Africa, has very aesthetic flowers, but how can you stimulate its flowering?
Calla Lilies: How to Look After Them

Written by Jonatan Menguez

Last update: 06 January, 2023

Zantedeschia aethiopica, better known as calla lilies, or arum lilies, is a species native to southern Africa, with a unique aesthetic. Its inflorescences – called spadix – and its characteristic large cup-shaped flowers make it a plant widely used as an ornamental.

It’s a plant that prefers temperate climates, although it has great versatility in withstanding different temperatures. However, in places where frost occurs, it’s best to keep it indoors. What other attention does it require? Find out here.

Characteristics and origin of calla lilies

Calla lilies have numerous nicknames, however, their scientific name is Zantedeschia aethiopica; they’re a herbaceous perennial of the Araceae family. They’re characterized by their large spathes, which form a kind of white cup.

This is what has converted it into an ornamental plant, so it’s common in the discipline of floriculture. Its flowering occurs in spring, but it’s necessary to follow certain recommendations for its specific care, such as keeping it away from frost, and providing shade and abundant water.

It’s a species native to South Africa, where it grows naturally in places with plenty of water. But it’s also grown in many parts of the world with temperate or tropical climates. The calla is popular in Australia, America and Europe. In Ethiopia, it’s the national flower.

Calla lilies.
Calla lilies are prized in gardening because of the beauty of their flowers.

What do calla lilies symbolize?

It’s a highly symbolic species. One of its nicknames – “cradle of Moses” – even links it to the Biblical story concerning this prophet. It’s believed that the banks of the Nile River, where Moses was placed to protect him from Egyptian persecution, were adorned with this plant. Therefore, it could have functioned as a “cradle” for the child who became the liberator of the Hebrew people.

As for its daily use, the calla is associated with purity, good luck, and a strong spirituality. For this reason, it tends to be given as a gift at births and communions of children. Paradoxically, it’s also very present in cemeteries, as it’s often given as an offering to the deceased.

Specific care of calla lilies

Encouraging the optimal development of calla lilies allows you to enjoy the flowering season. Its characteristic white flowers last about three months and can appear several times a year.

With the following care, it can grow to a height of 10 centimeters (4 inches) to half a meter (1.6 feet), depending on the specimen and the size of the pot. It’s suitable for both indoors and outdoors.

Light

One of the most important aspects of calla care is that it doesn’t tolerate direct sunlight – especially if this is intense and sustained. Therefore, it’s recommended to place it in a lighted area, but without direct sun rays. For example, near a window or, if placed outdoors, under the shade of a tree.

Watering

It needs plenty of water, although this depends on the time of year. As flowering approaches in spring, it’s recommended to increase watering, even to twice daily spraying.

As autumn and the cold months approach, the frequency of watering should be progressively reduced. On the other hand, it’s important to keep the substrate moist, as it doesn’t tolerate dry conditions.

Fertilizer

It’s advisable to provide fertilizer, but only a couple of times a year. This is necessary during the growing months, that is, in the late summer and early spring weeks. A good option is the application of organic fertilizer.

Reproduction of calla lilies

Growing this plant is very simple and there are several ways to do it – by means of offshoots, bulbs, or seedlings.

  • Seedlings. One of the most common ways is to cut off a young shoot with a bit of root from the original plant. Then, grow it in another pot maintaining constant humidity.
  • Bulbs. Bulbs can be obtained in any specialized store. They should be inserted into the pot with substrate and watered until they are filled with water. After a few days, the stems will begin to grow.
  • Seeds. Calla seeds are obtained after the flowering stage has passed. When the flowers fade, it’s possible to harvest them.

Temperature and humidity

The other key aspect of calla lily care is the humidity level. It needs constant humidification, both in summer and winter. To achieve this, you should spray the leaves every day or apply a humidifier that improves the ambient conditions.

This can be effective, especially in winter. In the cold season, despite the low temperatures, it needs to remain humid when the use of heating tends to dry the room.

In addition, if the weather outside is very cold, below 10 degrees, it’s advisable to move it indoors. The calla lily is a warm weather plant; its ideal temperature ranges from 18 to 25 degrees Centigrade (64 to 77 Fahrenheit); it can withstand higher levels but not much lower.

A calla lily.
Calla lilies grow easily in temperate climates. It is recommended to keep its soil moist.

Pests and diseases

The main pests affecting calla lilies are snails and slugs, which take up residence in their large, thick leaves. It’s best to prevent their appearance, but they can be treated with homemade solutions or pesticides.

On the other hand, if the leaves begin to take on a yellowish hue, the plant most likely needs more water. If it’s in a very cold environment, it should be moved to a warmer place.

Beware of the toxicity of water lilies

Unlike other plants for gastronomic use, the calla lily has the characteristic of being toxic for human consumption. Therefore, it shouldn’t be consumed raw or cooked, as it can cause gastroenteritis. In addition, contact with the sap, which can irritate the skin and lips, should be avoided.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.