Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The many lovely faces of our calla lilies

We are blessed to have beautiful flowers growing in our garden, including roses, fuchsia, rhododendrons and camellias. Every year at this time, thanks to the Bay Area's moderate winter climate, our lovely calla lilies come alive, too.

Quietly, these majestic perennial flowers go about their business of blooming on the quiet, east side of our house. As February reached its midway point last week on Valentine's Day, we had four calla lilies in bloom. By spring, that figure will quadruple. Our thriving calla lilies will be with us until the start of summer.

What we commonly know as a calla lily ~ its more formal name is zantedeschia aethiopica ~ is a species in the family Araceae, which is native to southern Africa in Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland. In the language of Afrikaans, a calla lily is known as "varkoor" meaning pig's ear.

The calla lily is the national flower of the island nation of Saint Helena, and its showy pure white spathe and yellow spadix have been cultivated for the Easter floral trade over the past century. In Britain and Ireland, it is known as the "Easter lily" and, since the Easter uprising of 1916, it became an important symbol of Irish Republicanism.

Over the years, I have enjoyed photographing our calla lilies; each flower seems to have its own individual shape and personality. Because calla lilies can represent both happy and sad occasions, I've used my photographs of them to represent not only the purity of a wedding but also as a condolence to a friend who just lost a parent. The beauty and attractiveness of calla lilies enable them to be used both in wedding bouquets and in funeral arrangements.

The American artist Georgia O'Keeffe brought the calla lily to life through her close-up paintings of single calla lily flowers in the 1920s and 1930s that were both sensual and geometric. Well known as the "lady of the lilies," she once remarked, "What is my experience of the flower if not color?"

Indeed, the calla lilies are in bloom, again.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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