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Andreana Bitsis

Ask Ella: How to Identify a True Calla Lily

Ask Ella is a recurring Garden Collage feature where we ask our in-house florist, Ella Stavonsky, about floral design– including the history of, origin, and maintenance that goes into some of the most intriguing flowers on the market today. This column is dedicated exclusively to common and rare varieties of flowers you’re likely to find at your local market. This week, we spotlight the calla lily, an old staple flower we love to style with vivid, ultra-saturated colors.

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Calla lily is often used as a catch-all term for both arum lilies and true calla lilies– the two share a similar asymmetrical shape and are both common in the floral world. There are a few ways to distinguish the two, however. Arum lilies belong to the Zantedeschia genus (of which Zantedeschia aethiopica, a white variety, is the most well known), and they are larger and have a more open, flat shape. Calla lilies, a part of the Calla genus, tend to be smaller and more tightly-wound. To make things even more complex, neither a calla nor an arum are a true lily (this being the Lillium genus)– but such is the often contradictory nature of plant taxonomy and corresponding lay nomenclature.

Calla Lily Ask Ella 2

Andreana Bitsis

Calla and arum lilies have a very classical form– like a single, perfectly moulded ruffle, circling neatly in on itself– but they can have the tendency to look a little tacky, especially the most common white variety of arum lily (which unfailingly evokes the idea of a funeral). To counter this tendency, we prefer using calla lilies, which come in a wider range of hues. For our bouquets, we draw on calla lilies in visceral, moody colors like fiery orange or deep purple to add depth and complexity. “Just add them to anything seasonal: dahlias, roses, spray roses,” Ella recommends. “The best is just calla lilies by themselves, maybe ten or fifteen– two bunches in a cylinder vase and that’s it.” Where only the white arum lily is available, try pairing it with more bespoke, muted greens (like eucalyptus or even sprigs of fragrant rosemary from your yard) to keep the arrangement looking fresh and modern.

Calla lilies and arum lilies are a very hardy pair and both last quite a long time (they last up to two weeks once plucked) even when left to their own devices. But there are still a few ways to keep them looking tall and elegant. “Recut the stems every other day, and give them fresh cold water, like anything else,” Ella advises. “But make sure not to give them too much water, because the stems tend to get soft. Two inches should be enough– just make sure you monitor the level regularly.”

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