Blushing Beauties – Pink varieties of Zantedeschia aethiopica
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Flushing a luminous rosy pink, a host of elegant floral goblets soar on robust stems above mounds of glossy arrow-head leaves. See them with the morning sun shining through their waxy spathes and they glow in translucent perfection, while a peek inside one of these marvelous inflorescences draws your eye from the dazzling white of the rim to the deep blush at the centre and the pink spadix pointing out at you like an impudent finger.
This is Zantedeschia aethiopica'Marshmallow Pink', one of a select group of plants that have never quite gained the popularity of their conventionally white progenitor. A mystery, perhaps, as the universally popular - if inaccurately named - "Calla lily" scarcely needs introducing. From its South-African homeland, this admirable aroid has globe-trotted to become an enduring subject for the temperate greenhouse, patio containers and massed outdoor plantings, while in some countries it has skipped across the garden fence to establish itself as a not always welcome addition to the local environment.
While most cultivars of Zantedeschia aethiopica have largely retained the simple beauty of the wild plant, its less hardy relatives, including Zantedeschia rehmannii, Z. pentlandii and Z.albomaculata, have begotten a bewildering host of gaudy hybrid offspring with plain or spotted, strap-shaped or sagittate foliage. As for the blooms, there seems to be no limit to what is possible, with everything from searing red, dazzling gold, plum and chocolate to near- black to name just a few.
But, while these invariably tender creations have their admirers, for others they are extrovert to the point of vulgarity, and many prefer the unsullied elegance of their more robust cousin. Many cultivars have arisen from Zantedeschia aethiopica, from compact midgets to six-foot tall colossi and, while there are variations in form, most are recognizably aethiopica. They include the much-admired 'Green Goddess', a divinity of dubious virtues as not all gardeners ascribe to the perennial craze for plants with green flowers.
Unusually, the rose-tinted variations on this theme have never gained the popularity they deserve. It does not take much imagination to picture a large planting of these beauties, in a border under glass or outside, wherever this can be achieved. Yet you would be hard pressed to find any but the white varieties - and perhaps ´Green Goddess´ - being used in this way.
Why is this so? An unmerited reputation for fussiness might be the answer. Zantedeschiaaethiopica 'Kiwi Blush', in particular, has a reputation for bad behaviour under cool conditions and this was certainly my experience when growing it in England alongside the particularly hardy white Z. aethiopica 'Crowborough'.
Rather than puzzling over such disasters, let’s go back to the roots of the matter for guidance. Within its natural range, Zantedeschia aethiopica grows in a surprising range of habitats and climatic conditions, from the mild and humid coast to chilly uplands where the plants endure sub-zero temperatures. It therefore follows that some are going to be tougher than others and that cultivars derived from them are likely to inherit this trait. However, Zantedeschia aethiopica has been in cultivation for so long that we cannot know where many individual wild collections were made, nor what characteristics they bestowed on their descendants.
A wild pink variety resembling 'Kiwi Blush' is found in eastern South Africa and growers have reported this to be very hardy. One pink cultivar, ´Glow´, originated as a sport of the durable white ´Crowborough´ and apparently shares its traits. I have yet to cultivate ´Glow´ but another pink variety, 'Marshmallow Pink', performs well for me, slumbering through the upland Mediterranean summer then springing into activity during the cooler months to produce masses of gorgeous, lightly perfumed blooms from March onwards. Under cover, such as in a greenhouse they perform superbly, while outdoors in containers they merely need fleecing or other protection from light frosts and taking inside during those longer freezes.
A little effort is not too high a price to pay for such beauty. Give them the same plentiful water, rich compost and feeding as their white brethren and, most importantly, choose the right variety. Let’s spread the word about these not-so-delicate beauties and, together, we can paint the world pink!
Peter Ashby is a gardening enthusiast and writer who writes’ for Hartley Botanic USA who manufacture premium traditional English greenhouses.