Tips for handling these elegant but sometimes challenging flowers.
1 name games. Most commonly known as callas or calla lilies in the United States, these distinctive flowers of the Zantedeschia genus are also known as arum lilies (primarily in the United Kingdom and Europe); pig lilies (in their native South Africa, where they’re common roadside plants); and trumpet lilies (a reminder of the archangel Gabriel and his trumpet).
2 mistaken monikers. Despite their common names, callas are not related to lilies (Lilium); rather, they are members of the Araceae(arum) family, which includes Anthurium, Caladium, Philodendron, Dieffenbachia (dumb cane), Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Aglaonema(Chinese evergreen) and Arisaema (jack-in-the-pulpit).
3 anatomy lessons. These elegant flowers are made up of a funnel-shaped spathe (actually a colored petal-like leaf) that surrounds a fleshy spike, called a spadix. The actual “flowers” are the “bumps” on the spadix. Callas’ stems are smooth and leafless.
Standard callas have a head size of about 6 inches and stem lengths ranging from about 20 to 48 inches. Miniature callas’ head sizes vary from about 3 to 5 inches, and stem lengths range from about 8 to 20 inches.
4 news about hues. Standard callas are available in white, white/green variegated (e.g., ‘Green Goddess’) and blush pink (e.g., ‘Diva Maria’). Miniature callas also are available in white as well as a wide variety of yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, lavenders, purples and bicolors. Hues vary depending on growing conditions, so two flowers of the same variety may have slightly different colorations. Think in terms of a “color range” when ordering.
5 best buys. When possible, purchase callas at the stage of openness desired for sale or use because these flowers generally don’t open significantly after they’re cut. And if they’re cut too tight, they often will not open at all. Also, don’t purchase callas too early; buy them close to the time you need them.
The spathes should be firm and free of spots, blemishes, bruises, splits and brown tips, and the spadices should be visible at the time of purchase.
Callas are available year-round from both domestic and foreign sources.
6 care giving. Always unpack and handle callas carefully to avoid bruising the blooms. Using a sharp knife, cut at least 1 inch from the bottoms of the stems—avoid removing all of the white stem end, if possible—and place the flowers immediately into a clean container partially filled with lukewarm (100-110 F), properly mixed flower-food solution. One prominent California calla grower recommends placing only 2 inches of water in calla storage containers.
Callas are heavy drinkers, so check flower-food solution levels daily. Also, recut the stems every two days while flowers are in storage.
7 drinking responsibly. Callas do not benefit from the sugar in flower-food solutions, but they do benefit from the bactericide, which helps control the bacteria level in the container(s). Leaving part of the white stem ends on standard callas helps increase water uptake and vase life while reducing the chances of stem splitting or curling. You also can wrap stems near their ends with waterproof tape to minimize splitting and curling.
8 be cool. After processing, place callas into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F, and allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before using or selling them. Although they are native to South Africa, callas are not “tropical” flowers, so don’t follow the oft-given but mistaken advice of storing them in a tropical flower cooler or at room temperature.
If properly handled from farm to florist, callas can last four to eight or more days at the consumer level.
9 straighten up. Callas shipped dry may arrive a little limp, but they will revive after being recut and hydrated. If callas’ stems are curved and need to be straightened, wrap the stems in newspaper, and store the flowers upright in a tall container.
10 not an issue. Callas are not sensitive to ethylene, and contrary to popular belief, they do not produce significant amounts of the gas; therefore, they can be stored safely with other flowers.
Photos courtesy of the California Cut Flower Commission www.ccfc.org