The calla lily was named after the Greek word for beautiful — calla. It is associated with the Greek goddess Hera. According to the legend Zeus brought Hercules, his son from another women, to Hera, his wife, while she was asleep to drink her milk. When she woke up she pushed him away and drops of milk flew across the sky to create the milky way. The ones that fell on the ground grew into beautiful lilies.
When Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and desire, saw the lilies she was jealous of their beauty. She cursed their beauty by placing a large yellow pistil in the middle of the flowers. Because of this story, some associate the calla lily with Venus and thus with lust and sexuality.
However, the most common meaning for calla lilies is purity, holiness, and faithfulness. It’s commonly depicted in images of the Virgin Mary. Calla lilies are also symbols for rebirth and resurrection, tied to the resurrection of Jesus in part because they bloom around Easter and in part because they are shaped like trumpets which symbolize triumph.
Though calla lilies are most commonly white, they actually grow in a variety of colors including pink, purple, yellow, and even black. Calla lily symbolism varies by flower color.
- White calla lilies symbolize purity and innocence.
- Pink calla lilies symbolize appreciation and admiration.
- Purple calla lilies symbolize charm and passion.
- Yellow calla lilies symbolize gratitude.
Because of their beauty, calla lilies are used for many occasions including weddings and funerals. Calla lilies’ versatility is perfectly expressed by Katharine Hepburn in the movie Stage Door.
“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower — suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in the memory of something that has died.”
The calla lily’s name is actually a misnomer as it is not a true calla or a true lily. The Swedish botanist Carolus Lunnaeus made an error naming the plant. The error was eventually corrected when German botanist Karl Koch created the genus Zantedeschia, but the common name for the flower has stuck.
The flower is native to Africa and consists of a spathe, the outer part of the flower, and the spadix, the yellow spike in the center. The spathe is actually a modified leaf rather than a petal. Calla lilies are known for their hardiness and can even grow in water and survive frost.
The calla lily is the 6th wedding anniversary flower, symbolizing the beauty of a couple’s love.
Bottom image: bottom left CC Image courtesy of Paige Filler on Flickr, bottom middle left CC Image courtesy of Elliot on Flickr, bottom middle right CC Image courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Flickr, bottom right CC Image courtesy of Jitze Couperus on Flickr