Plants I Love and Deer Ignore: Calla Lily

Zantedeschia,aethiopica, calla lily

Gardening should be fun and bring joy to our lives.  That is why I am always happy to discover a new group of plants that thrive in our climate, grow beautifully without a lot of fuss, and that won’t attract the attention hungry deer looking for the salad bar.  Allow me to share one of my favorites….

Zantedeschia species, known as calla lilies, may be one of your favorite florist flowers.  These elegant, long stemmed flowers bloom in a wide range of colors including white, pinks, yellows, reds, and deepest purple.  Zantedeschia leaves are also beautiful enough that you may enjoy their presence in pots and garden beds throughout the growing season.  Some leaves are deep green with white or silver markings.  Others may be dark purple or maroon.

Many Zantedeschia species prove hardy in coastal Virginia and may be left in the ground year-round.  Tender varieties may be grown in pots overwintered in a frost-free area, or lifted in November, around the time of the first frost.  The tubers may be dried, cleaned, and stored through the winter months to be planted again the following April.

Zantedeschia aethiopica grows 2’-5’ tall with a pure white bloom.   Z. ‘White Giant’ has large white flowers and white markings on its leaves.   Moisture loving, these may be grown to advantage in rain gardens or damp spots in full to partial sun.  They grow a bit taller and clumps increase, year to year, in Zones 7a-10b.  Z. ‘Swartburg Giant’ grows to 54”, with deep green, heavily ruffled unmarked leaves.  Each leaf may be nearly 2’ long.  The huge white flowers grow to 7” across.  Give both hardy varieties moist, rich soil for best performance.

Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold,’ grows to only 24”, but has beautiful deep green leaves with gold veins.  This white flowering variety is hardy in Zones 8b-10.

Zantedeschia albomaculata, hardy in Zones 7-10, sport white spotted leaves and somewhat smaller white flowers growing 12” to 18”.  They may be grown among other perennials in a bed, or they may be grown in pots in the shallow edge of a pond.   Keep the bulbs drier if left outdoors over winter. They are very adaptable for full to partial sun, giving the best flowers in full sun.

Another stunning Calla is Zantedeschia ‘Odessa, with deep purple, almost black flowers.   Its deep green leaves are spotted with white.  Far more striking is Z. ‘Memories,’ whose leaves have deep purple stems with some marking.  The flowers are nearly black.  These are very hardy to Zone 3 and may be left in the ground or in outdoor pots year-round.  Grow in part to full sun.  As with all Zantedeschias, they flower more in full sun.

Like all members of the Aroid family, Zantedeschia leaves and flowers contain crystalline calcium oxalate, which sting and irritate tender tissue in the mouth of any creature who takes a bite.  This keeps them safe from grazers.

Blooming calla lily plants grown in hothouses may be purchased from local shops nearly year-round.  These can be planted outside, but please do a little research to determine the hardiness of the cultivar. 

Order Zantedeschia rhizomes for spring delivery.  The large aethiopica varieties are rarely available locally as plants and generally must be ordered from companies like Brent and Becky’s or Plant Delights.  Start them in pots, flats, or even in a zip-lock bag with some damp potting soil.  Roots emerge from the top of the rhizome, along with the new stems.  Beginners might find it easier to sprout the rhizome before planting to insure it is ‘right side up.’

If growing in containers, remember to provide enough water and nutrition to keep the plant in active growth and bloom.  Expect these plants to die back for an annual dormant period whether grown indoors or out.  Otherwise, these are easy, beautiful plants to add a touch of elegance to all but the shadiest gardens.

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore



  1. Oh, Odessa is in Ukraine.
    Well, I suppose that it is in Texas also.
    Callas are suppose to repel gophers, although I think that gophers simply go around them. We added three of these fancy sorts, but they did not last long. I suspect that the first one rotted, but it happened so suddenly that it seemed to get eaten by gophers. The other two died back like they should, but never regenerated, so likely rotted also.

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    • Tony, that is so very sad. I’m sorry your Callas became gopher treats or rotted. Do you get enough rain for plants to rot in the ground? But then, they do like it dry when they are dormant and I guess you get rain mostly in winter, don’t you? More and more, I plant things like Callas into pots. I can keep track of them better. Sometimes I lift them and dry them in fall, and then sometimes I get a pleasant surprise in the spring when one I forgot to lift comes back. The aethiopica varieties are the most hardy and persistent (for us), and I leave those planted in the ground year to year to increase. Z. ‘Memories’ is particularly nice if you decide to try any of the really dark flowered callas ever again. I’ve never been to Odessa in Ukraine or in Texas, but such a mysterious sounding name!

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      • Oh, it is not too sad. It happens here. They were in a situation that stays quite damp. Although surrounded by chaparral, the coastal redwood forests get much more rain than inland regions. Some areas drain well and even get dry through summer. Others are swampy. Common white callas, which I prefer, naturalize in some situations.

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