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Botanical Buzz - Canna Lily

Friday, January 09, 2015

A little detective work can unearth fascinating stories about some of our most familiar garden plants.

The Canna (commonly known as the canna lily, although not a true lily) is a great example of a plant with interesting roots!

The Canna is a genus of 19 species of rhizomatous perennials with broad, flat leaves that grow out of a stem in a long, narrow roll and then unfurl. The impressive flowers are colourful and bloom over a long period.

Cannas belong to the same order (Zingiberales) as gingers and bananas. They are native to the tropics and subtropics of the Americas, and have become widely naturalized elsewhere.

Western horticulturalists have been trading and hybridising cannas for roughly four hundred years. The famous French rose breeder, Monsieur Pierre‑Antoine‑Marie Crozy began breeding cannas as early as 1862 and a group of cultivars bears his name.

The plant became a very popular garden plant during the reign of Queen Victoria and was grown widely in Europe, India and the United States during this period.

Modern canna hybrids come in four different sizes: pixie (45cm-60cm), dwarf (60cm-100cm), medium (1m-1.5m) and tall (1.5m-2m). They come in all colours except blue, green and black. The foliage may be green, blue-green, purple, burgundy, bronze or striped.

Canna edulis is grown in South America for its large edible tuberous rhizomes which have a very high starch content. The young rhizomes may be eaten raw or cooked.

In Australia, Canna edulis became known as Queensland arrowroot.  In the late nineteenth century it was grown in plantations at Coomera and Pimpama in Queensland and the rhizomes were processed to produce a substitute for arrowroot (a gluten-free thickener used in cooking).

Visit the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden to see beautiful ornamental cannas in flower and reflect on this plant’s amazing history.
                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan