THE ARUM LILY - Zantedeschia aethiopica

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica

The Arum lily is arguably one of the most beautiful of all flowering plants. It has been in cultivation in Europe since at least the 1660s and is one of the world's most iconic and widely known plants. Native to southern and east Africa in Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Madeira, the name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833). However the Afrikaans name for the Arum lily - 'Varkoor', is less than complimentary as it means 'pig's ear'! Despite this rather unfortunate pseudonym the Arum lily is used across the world as a symbol of purity in bridal and funeral flower arrangements.

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica
The arum lily is best known for its striking appearance when in flower, producing a brilliant white floral bract (known as a spathe) which is wrapped around the yellow, finger-like spadix in the centre. These Inflorescences (the complete flower head of a plant including its flowers ) can be quite large on mature specimens, with the spathe reaching up to 10 inches in length. The fruits which follow are green berries which turn orange at the base when ripe.

When planted in optimum conditions you can expect a fantastic display of flowers throughout the spring and summer.

It is because of these outstanding inflorescences that Zantedeschia aethiopica has become very popular for cut flowers, as well as an ornamental garden plant.

The arum lily is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant. It grows naturally in marshy areas and is only deciduous when water becomes scarce. In its natural habitat it will often be found in or on the banks of streams and ponds. It will grows from 2–3 ft tall, with large clumps of broad, arrow shaped dark green leaves which can be up to 18 inches long.

The Arum Lily - Zantedeschia aethiopica
So long as it is warm enough it will grow continuously when watered and fed regularly, and can even survive periods of minor frosts. This means that it can be grown outside in any of the warmer, northern European countries. However, to be on the safe side, consider the cultivar 'Crowborough'. It is is a cold tolerant cultivar growing to 36 inches tall, and is ideally suited to cool climates such as the British Isles and north-western United States.

You can plant the Arum lily in any position it will grow best in moist, fertile soil or as a marginal plant in shallow water. The growing conditions will also determine size and flowering. Planting under shade is preferable if there is no boggy or wet position available, but be aware that this will reduce the number of flowers produced and will ultimately result in a smaller plant.

Zantedeschia species are poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate, and ingestion of the raw plant may cause a severe burning sensation and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat. In extreme cases stomach pain and diarrhoea may occur. However leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten, and the rhizomes are also believed to edible.

The arum lily has become an important symbol of Irish republicanism and nationalism since 1926, and is the national flower of the island nation of Saint Helena.

The Zantedeschia aethiopica cultivars 'Crowborough' and 'Green Goddess' have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's 'Award of Garden Merit' (AGM).

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