Calla, calla, calla, California

An Easter gift from Kim Darnell on Sunday: a handsome purple calla lily, looking dark bluish-purple in yellow interior light, but in fact bright pinkish-purple in sunlight. Purple is the liturgical color for the Lenten season, white for the Easter season, so both white and purple flowers are appropriate for this time of year. I’ll start here with the gift calla, in two photos; move on to callas in general and their sexual symbolism, with a digression on George O’Keeffe.

(Note: the title is a play on the song “Karma Chameleon”. From Wikipedia: “Karma Chameleon” is a song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group’s 1983 album Colour by Numbers. The original has karma x5 chameleon, but I’ve cut it down to x3 to save space.)

The gift calla. Here’s the photo I took, inside on a wet, overcast day, with my iPad; the image has been color-corrected as much as possible, but it’s still way off:


On Tuesday, in bright sun outside, another friend took this photo on his iPhone, and that gets it just right:


About callas. I’ve posted here once before calla lilies, in the 3/17/12 posting “St. Patrick”, with a section about calla lily as a resembloid, rather than subsective compound (calla lilies aren’t lilies, in the genus Lilium); about Katharine Hepburn on the flowers (“The calla lilies are in bloom again, such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion…”), and about the calla’s connection to weddings). This posting was about the classic calla:


From Wikipedia:

Zantedeschia aethiopica (known as calla lily and arum lily) is a species in the family Araceae, native to southern Africa in Lesotho, South Africa, and Swaziland.

Zantedeschia aethiopica is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant, evergreen where rainfall and temperatures are adequate, deciduous where there is a dry season. Its preferred habitat is in streams and ponds or on the banks. It grows to 2.0–3.3 ft tall, with large clumps of broad, arrow shaped dark green leaves up to 18 in long. The inflorescences are large and are produced in spring, summer and autumn, with a pure white spathe up to 9.8 in and a yellow spadix up to 3 1⁄2 in long. The spadix produces a faint, sweet fragrance.

The spathe is the part that looks like a conical petal, but is in fact a bract; think of the petal-like bracts of pointsettia or dogwood flowers. The spadix is the central part that looks like a stamen, but is in fact a spike of very small yellow flowers.

The showy trumpet-like whiteness of Z. aethiopica makes it a suitable Easter flower, an alternative to the standard Easter lily. From Wikipedia:


Lilium longiflorum …, often called the Easter lily, is a plant endemic to the Ryukyu Islands (Japan). Lilium formosana, a closely related species from Taiwan, has been treated as a variety of Easter lily in the past. It is a stem rooting lily, growing up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) high. It bears a number of trumpet shaped, white, fragrant, and outward facing flowers.

I hadn’t been aware of the wide variety of Z. aethiopica sports and hybrids between this species and other Zantedeschia species, yielding an extraordinary range of spathe colors, including bicolors. Assortments from two different seed and plant companies:



The calla as erotic symbol. The spathe serves as a vaginal symbol, and the spadix as either phallic or clitoral symbol, so callas are pretty much drenched in sexuality.

Which brings us to Georgia O’Keeffe, whose hundreds of flower paintings strike nearly everybody as powerfully sexual (though apparently she always rejected Freudian interpretations of these works). Calla lilies were a recurrent subject, as in White Calla Lily of 1927:


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