Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Plant profile: Canna

Cannas were a huge hit in late-Victorian days, and cottage-garden artist Gertrude Jekyll praised them for "the handsomest foliage in the border." Who am I to argue with Ms. Jekyll? A genus of approximately twenty species of tropical-looking plants related to gingers and bananas, the name Canna originates from the Celtic word for a cane or reed.

Atkins dieters beware: it is one of the world's richest starch sources, and is farmed for eating. All of the plant has commercial value: rhizomes for starch (consumption by humans and livestock), stems and foliage for animal fodder, young shoots as a vegetable and young seeds as an addition to tortillas.

Latin name: Canna spp. ("KAN-ah")
Common name: Canna, Canna lily.
Originally from: Tropical and subtropical regions of the New World, from the southern United States (southern South Carolina west to southern Texas) and south to northern Argentina
Blooms: Yellow, orange, red, pink or white and all shades in between! Flowers appear at the tips of thick spikes.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Moderate water.
Where to find in P. Garden: "Canna-opolis" as we called it was in the right edge bed, behind the Wrong Way sign. In the end we removed them because they contracted Canna virus.

We got our Cannas from various people, who either sold us the rhizomes (thick roots they grow from), allowed us to dig rhizomes from their gardens, gave us seeds to start or gave us whole plants. We were sometimes told what colors to expect, but now that they've started flowering some of them have surprised us!

We have burgundy-leaved orange ones (top right), burgundy-leaved reds (probably "Black Knight", top left, foreground) striped-leaved ones whose flowers haven't opened, and normal-leaved reds with the smaller flowers (top left, background). And they're all mixed up! When the plants die down in the fall we'll relocate them into better groupings, and I hope to get some yellow and pink Cannas too, to add to the mix.

Cannas are classified in various "groups" accoridng to what they look like. Canna x generalis "Black Knight" is in the Italian Group. We have no idea what the other Cannas are!

UPDATE: we removed all our Cannas except for a clump of red ones in the brights and left beds. They contracted Canna virus which is spread by leafcutter bugs and by forgetting to clean pruners when deadheading. Very sad but at the same time they were quite thirsty, those plants!

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