Colorful Cannas Part II

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

Cannas Add A Touch of the Tropics

The broad flat leaves of canna are typically solid green but some cultivars have maroon, bronzy, or even enchantingly variegated (striped) leaves. Leaves emerge as a long tapering roll, gain all their height, then unfurl.  Cool to watch.


Canna Flowers

Leaves are striking, but 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.


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. Ginger is another plant with rhizomes. Ginger rhizomes are the part you buy at the supermarket. But don’t eat your cannas, almost all species are toxic!

Oriental supermarkets here in the Southwest offer a number of edible rhizomes, including galanga (L), and ginger (R).

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.


Useful Canna

Along with looking good in the garden, cannas have many uses. Originally from the Americas (the “New World”), they were very quickly spread around the globe by early explorers. Thus a canna in the garden connects you with many different cultures. Canna seeds are used for a purple dye and as beads in jewelry around the globe. 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. In more remote regions of India, cannas are fermented to produce alcohol (not sure which species they use).

When pollinated, each flower yields at least 3 large seeds. The pods look kinda cool too.

The canna plant is a useful fiber source.  Stem fibers are a jute substitute.  Leaf fibers are used for making paper.  Smoke from the burning leaves is said to be insecticidal.  Canna are planted in wetlands to help extract undesirable pollutants in a wetland environment as they have a high tolerance to contaminants.


Edible Canna

Easily digested arrowroot starch comes from one species (Canna edulis).  [Corn starch is more difficult to digest.] In Vietnam, edible canna is called dong rieng.  Cellophane noodles or mien dong, are made from dong rieng starch.  Meanwhile, in Thailand, cannas are a traditional gift for Father’s Day.

The name “canna” was given to the plant by Linnaeus, a European botanist. The name originates from the Celtic word for a cane or reed, so if you have some Celtic blood, maybe you can celebrate with some of these lovely plants!

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.

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soule-southwest-gardeningI mentioned that some cannas are edible.  If you are interested in edibles, consider this book – Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute  may get a few pennies.

Don’t forget the Gardening With Soule Facebook page for daily (!) gardening tips.

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5 thoughts on “Colorful Cannas Part II

  1. I have a drippy water line connection just under my deck and am thinking “would that feed into a water garden?” The catchment container is exposed to eastern sunlight (unless my handyman fixes the connection and the whole idea dries up). So is a Canna grown in a pot? Soil. Is this in your book? Do goldfish grow huge in a water garden, and then??? Can fish be donated to some bigger pond? Where do I buy supplies and plants for a water garden?

    1. Hi Linda W.,
      Water gardens – now there is a great topic for a post!
      Love having water feature in the garden!
      The short answers here: I have had many over the years and eastern sun only is about the best. Canna in a pot – yes and the best soil for a water garden is “cactus” mix. It drains well so plants don’t get waterlogged. Pot on bricks so only 1 inch in water. Every time my goldfish get too large a great blue heron or raccoon shows up to eat them. Plants are water-lovers like canna, mint, yerba mansa, and all in pots on bricks so only 1″ in water. Good Luck!

      1. How encouraged by your answer, please do write about water gardening, even a book someday!

    1. Hi Linda L.,
      Cannas are one tough rhizome! I keep an axe for gardening use. We have one out by the BBQ nice and sharp for wood – but my garden axe is duller due to chopping through tough soil and hitting the rocky soil beneath the plants. I’m about to make a YouTube video about dividing lemongrass – another toughie – and you can see the axe in action! I will let everyone know when it’s up.
      A mattock also works well.
      Hope this helps!

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