Colorful Cannas – Part II

Last week I told you that You Can Grow Colorful Cannas.    Just because you can – should you?    Sure – why not!    If you enjoy bright, colorful, lush plants in your landscape, and especially if you have a water garden – you should grow some cannas.    But is that isn’t enough – here are some additional reasons to grow them.

yellow and orange canna flowers all summer in the southwest

Cannas Add A Touch of the Tropics

The broad flat leaves of cannas are typically solid green but some cultivars have maroon, bronzy, or even enchantingly variegated (striped) leaves. As the leaves emerge, they are produced in a long tapering roll, and gain all their height before they unfurl.  They add a lush and tropical feel to your garden.

speckled canna flowers all summer in the southwest

Canna Flowers

While the leaves are wonderfully striking, the flowers are stunning.    Almost like a living tiki torch, the flame colored flowers appear on a long lasting spike. Individual flowers sequentially grow in an upwards spiral in vivid hues of crimson, scarlet, golden, yellow, orange, or a sunrise blend of all of these colors.

red canna flowers all summer in the southwest

Perennial Canna

Botanically speaking, canna plants are “herbs” since they lack wood.    They are tropical to subtropical perennial herbs that die back to the ground every winter in climates like Tucson and Phoenix.    Cannas also come back every spring from their specialized underground storage stem called a rhizome.    Rhizomes are also found in their cousin, ginger.    Ginger rhizomes are the part you buy at the supermarket.    But don’t eat your cannas, almost all species are toxic!

bright orange canna flowers all summer in the southwest

Botany of Canna

Canna flowers are unique in all the plant kingdom, thus cannas have been given their own plant family!    It’s a small family with a bare 19 species (but countless horticultural cultivars).    Occasionally called “canna lilies”  – they are not lilies at all!    They are more closely related to ginger.    Both grow from rhizomes.

canna seep pods look like they are thorny but they are not
Seed pods developing show you that your garden get visits from bees.

Useful Canna

Along with looking gorgeous in the garden, cannas have many uses. Originally from the New World, they were quickly spread around the globe by early explorers. Thus a canna in the garden connects you with many different cultures.

Seeds are used for a purple dye in Africa and Asia. Remember, these came from the Americas – but other cultures quickly adopted these uses. The dark black seeds have been used as durable beads in jewelry in many different cultures. Seeds are also used as the mobile elements of the kayamb, a musical instrument from Réunion, as well as the hosho, a gourd rattle from Zimbabwe.

seeds of canna are black and useful
The dark black seeds can easily be drilled and made into beads.

The canna plant yields both stem fibers used as a jute substitute and leaf fibers used for making paper.   In more remote regions of India, canna stalks are fermented to produce alcohol.

Cannas Can be Beneficial

Smoke from the burning leaves is said to be insecticidal, or at least deters mosquitoes and other flying pests.  Cannas are planted in wetlands to help extract undesirable pollutants in a wetland environment as they have a high tolerance to soil and water contaminants.

orange flowered south pacific canna grows in the southwest
The AAS sent me some canna seeds to grow – this charmer, Canna ‘South Pacific Orange.’ Image courtesy All-American Selections.

Edible Canna – Only the One

One species (Canna edulis) is the source of easily digested arrowroot starch.    In Vietnam, edible canna is called dong rieng and its’ starch is used to make cellophane noodles known as mien dong.

Please!  Do NOT eat your common garden canna.  They can kill you.

close up of pink flowered tropical rose canna grows in the southwest
Canna ‘Tropical Rose’ a 1992 All-America Selection canna. Image courtesy All-America

Gifting Cannas

In Thailand, cannas are a traditional gift for Father’s Day.

If a mentoring male person in your life likes plants, perhaps you can gift a canna this year. By “mentoring male” I wish to call attention to the fact that you do not need to physically sire a person to serve the role father. I have heard the term “work husband” and “work wife” bandied about. How about “work dad?” How about “school dad?” I know that my major professor when I was getting my PhD was a wonderful father to many graduate students over the years.

glowing yellow canna flowers all summer in the southwest

As Always – Enjoy

I enjoy my cannas for their colorful flowers, for their lush leaves, and for the fact that in growing them, I am growing a plant shared with many cultures around the globe – yet I never have to leave my own back yard.

Want more colorful heat-loving flowers?

The Month By Month Guide offers tips for your landscape (yes even lawns and roses) in every month of the year.  I have a few copies left and am offering them to you – my loyal readers. When you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

“A great reference book is key to successful gardening in the region where you live. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening takes the guesswork out of gardening for anyone residing in the Southwest. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to enjoy a thriving garden all year, from January to December. Chronologically organized, this guide is full of critical gardening when-to and how-to advice, along with illustrated step-by-step instructions.

The book’s author is Jacqueline Soule, a Tucson-based gardening expert. She knows this arid region inside and out, and she’s written several articles and books packed with her gardening advice. Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico Month-by-Month Gardening showcases Soule’s expertise in one easy-to-read guide.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  Heads up – I may have to increase the price when the US Postal Service increases their rates in July 2024.


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