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Zantedeschia aethiopica is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant, evergreen where rainfall and temperatures are adequate, deciduous where there is a dry season.
Commonly called calla lilies, these are not true lilies, but are arum (Jack-in-the-pulpit) family members. They are stemless plants whose flowers and leaves rise directly from rhizomes. They typically grow in clumps to 24-36" tall and feature large arrowhead-shaped (sagittate) leaves and extremely showy flowers consisting of a yellow finger-like spadix surrounded by a bright white spathe borne atop a leafless stalk. Commercially grown as a very popular cut flower.
Winter hardy to USDA Zone 8, and may survive some Zone 7 winters with protection. Best in moist soils with full sun to part shade. Lift rhizomes in fall and store in a damp medium such as peat or immediately replant in containers to overwinter as a houseplant. Calla lilies may be planted in mud at the edge of ponds or water gardens.
May also be grown year-round in containers that must be brought indoors in winter before first frost. Overwintering containers placed near a window with bright indirect light can make attractive houseplants.
This is an old fashioned, but very rewarding garden plant. Zantedeschia is named after Professor Zantedeschi, probably Giovanni Zantedeschi, 1773-1846, an Italian physician and botanist. The flowers are faintly scented and this attracts various crawling insects and bees which are responsible for pollinating the flowers. The spathe turns green after flowering and covers the ripening berries. It rots away when these are ripe and the succulent yellow berries attract birds, which are responsible for seed dispersal. The rhizome is large and eaten by wild pigs and porcupines and the ripe fruit enjoyed by birds. Raw plant material causes swelling of the throat because of microscopic, sharp calcium oxalate crystals. The leaves are used as a poultice and a treatment for headaches. May be used as a marginal plant along streams, or on the edge of a pond. Plant in partial shade if there is no permanent water. It can be planted as a foliage plant in deep shade under trees but will not flower well in this position. It is fast growing and likes very rich, well-drained conditions. It is an excellent cutflower and lasts a long time in water. Nowadays there are other forms of this species which will enliven an old theme. There is also an attractive form with leaves spotted white. Requires consistently moist soil.
Various members of the genus may bloom spring only or repeat and continue into autumn, often a few days after rainstorms thus one of the common names, Rain Lily. Most are spring or summer flowering.
Cultivation from seed is easy in this group. Seeds are papery and can be floated but they sprout very easily sown under just a thin covering of sowing medium. Sow the seeds in a well-drained mix and keep in a warm place. The seedlings will grow well in warm weather and respond well to fertilizer. As with any papery seeded amaryllids, these have a relatively short viability period.
Zephyranthes pulchella - Showy Zephyrlily - is found in the coastal prairies and wet roadsides of eastern Texas and Gulf Coast Louisiana. The leaves grow through the winter and spring and die off in summer; flowering occurs in autumn. Leaves are linear and sedge-like and flowers are golden yellow. Pulchella means "pretty". These spectacular rain lilies growing in the highway medians near Refugio, Texas, on the east coast of that state. The glossy green leaves serve as a nice foil to the bright yellow flowers that are held just atop the foliage. The vigorously multiplying clumps flower for us from late summer into fall.
Zephyranthes flowers are very similar to Habranthus flowers and both are called rain lilies. Habranthus flowers point upward BUT at an angle and have unequal stamens, and Zephyranthes flowers point straight up and have equal stamens. Zephyranthes flowers tend to be star shaped and Habranthus have somewhat irregular flowers. Additionally, the seeds of Habranthus are slightly winged (and thicker).
Z. strateumatica, has become naturalized in southern Florida after being introduced into the area as an adventive with Centipede Grass from China (this is where the Florida nickname "Centipede Grass Orchid" came from for this species.) Looks too nice to be just a weed! It emerges in winter, blooming in late December and January; within a few weeks, the plants vanish. The following year, they may return, and from the same root a new plant will grow next to the previous one.