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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
The canna plant is a useful fiber source. Stem fibers are a jute substitute and 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.
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. Dong rieng starch is used to make “cellophane noodles” known as mien dong. 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.
Free for Spring 2020 – PDF guide to the Top Ten Pollinator Plants for the Southwest
I 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.
© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.