When people think of calla flowers they most commonly associate them with calla lilies (technically known as Zantedeschia, a tribute to the famous botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi). However, there is a species in the same family referred to Calla palustris that grows wild in the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Although these two plants are similar in appearance and are part of the same genus, this variety only has a single species and contains a cluster of red berries at its center. Calla lilies boast a slightly larger family with eight recognized species; comes in a variety of colors and patterns (from a similar white to that of Calla palustris, to a golden hue, or spotted yellow or pink); grow to roughly around 1 to 3 feet, and are native to Southern Africa.
Although both Zantedeschia and Calla palustris varieties of calla flowers are considered highly poisonous to consume, many still take their chances. The rhizome of the wild calla can be dried, ground or boiled to make it edible. The leaves of calla lilies can also be cooked before consumption; however, most people will advise you to err on the side of safety with this particular culinary art. Calla flowers have a good deal of history, starting as far back as the Romans. This particular plant has, over time, fluctuated between being an emblem of happiness, to a respectful sign of sadness. During Roman times calla lilies were planted just inside the doors of homes at the time of winter solstice. This was done to bring some well needed “light” during the dark and dreary winters. Later on, callas were associated with funerals as they are not only a symbol for peace, they are also long lasting and can withstand warmer temperatures than many other flowers. Calla flowers have returned to a more cheerful use in recent times. During 1937 in New York, one of the largest blooms ever grown was a calla lily; Georgia O’Keefe painted at least eight pieces depicting callas, and an exhibition at the Brooks Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico featured over 50 depictions of this famous flower, and around 1934 the calla lily became very popular in weddings when a photo of a South African bride displaying a bouquet of callas surfaced.
As a gift, calla flowers can be very meaningful. Although they are predominately thought of as an emblem for spiritual peace, they are also thought to represent magnificence, purity and rebirth. Callas can be given as a houseplant, in a bouquet, boutonniere, or even clipped and given as a single flower.