Canna Lily vs Calla Lily: Key Differences You Should Know

We have neglected allotment flower growers for too long, only writing about growing veg.  Allotments can be used for growing flowers too and we encourage all allotment owners to have a section or sections dedicated to growing flowers.

For gardening enthusiasts in the United Kingdom, understanding the subtle differences between various plant species is essential to cultivating a stunning and harmonious garden.

Two popular lilies that are often confused due to their similar names and appearances are the canna lily (Canna spp.) and the calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.). Although they share the ‘lily’ name, these two plants belong to different families and possess distinct characteristics. Neither are actually true lilieseither!

‘True lilies’ is a term often used to distinguish plants that are part of the Lilium genus from other flowers that have “lily” in their common names but are not part of this genus. The Lilium genus belongs to the Liliaceae family and includes species like the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium), and Asiatic lilies. They often fragrant flowers typically have six tepals (three petals and three sepals of similar appearance). 

In this article, we will delve into the differences between canna lilies and calla lilies and provide tips for growing and caring for each in your garden.

Canna Lily (Canna spp.)

canna plants growing in a mixed border with dark leaves

Canna lilies, part of the Cannaceae family, are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. These rhizomatous perennial plants are known for their large, paddle-shaped leaves and vibrant flowers that come in shades of red, orange, yellow, and pink. They can grow to heights of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) and are a stunning addition to any garden.

Growing and Care

Canna lilies thrive in full sun and well-draining soil. They are best planted in spring after the risk of frost has passed. While cannas can tolerate some shade, they produce more vibrant blooms when exposed to at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Water them regularly, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist, and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser every four to six weeks during the growing season. In the colder months, it’s essential to lift the rhizomes, store them in a cool, dry place, and replant them the following spring.

Canna lilies to grow in the UK

Canna lilies can thrive in the UK, given their preference for sun and a good amount of watering. Here are some varieties that you might want to consider:

  1. Canna ‘Tropicanna’: Known for its multicolored foliage and brilliant orange flowers, this plant is a showstopper.
  2. Canna ‘Phasion’: Also known as the “Tropicanna canna”, this plant features stunning orange flowers and striped leaves in shades of pink, red, yellow, and green.
  3. Canna ‘Durban’: With its striking variegated foliage in a mix of purple, cream, and green, and vibrant orange-red flowers, it adds an exotic touch to your garden.
  4. Canna ‘Picasso’: This variety has eye-catching yellow flowers with red spots and dark green leaves.
  5. Canna ‘Wyoming’: Notable for its dark, almost purple foliage and bright orange flowers, this canna lily is a strong contrast plant.
  6. Canna ‘Pretoria’: This canna variety offers beautiful variegated green and yellow striped foliage and bright orange flowers.
  7. Canna ‘Stuttgart’: This plant is known for its variegated green and white foliage with pink flowers, adding an interesting color combination to any garden.

Calla Lily (Zantedeschia spp.)

calla lilly at the allotment

Calla lilies, hailing from the Araceae family, are native to South Africa. Often associated with elegance and grace, their unique trumpet-shaped flowers come in various hues, including white, pink, purple, yellow, and orange. With slender stems and long, arrow-shaped leaves, these perennials can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 meters) tall.

Growing and Care

Calla lilies grow best in partial shade, although they can tolerate full sun in cooler regions. They prefer well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH. Plant the rhizomes in spring, 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) deep, and space them 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) apart. Keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot. Apply a balanced liquid fertiliser every four weeks during the growing season. In colder regions, lift and store the rhizomes similarly to canna lilies.

Calla Lilies to grow in the UK

Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia) are another excellent choice for gardens in the UK, given their relative hardiness and beautiful, distinctive flowers. Here are a few varieties that are popular:

  1. Zantedeschia aethiopica: Known as the common arum lily, this variety produces large, white flowers and is the hardiest of the genus.
  2. Zantedeschia ‘Black Star’: This variety is known for its dramatic, deep purple (almost black) flowers.
  3. Zantedeschia ‘Captain Romance’: This calla lily features soft pink flowers, adding a delicate touch to your garden.
  4. Zantedeschia ‘Green Goddess’: This variety stands out in any garden setting with its unique green and white flowers.
  5. Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’: This plant produces white flowers with a purple heart, making it a striking addition to your garden.
  6. Zantedeschia ‘Red Charm’: As the name implies, this variety boasts vibrant red flowers.
  7. Zantedeschia ‘Yellow Sun’: This calla lily stands out with its sunny yellow flowers.


Although the canna lily and calla lily share similarities in appearance and name, they each possess unique characteristics that set them apart. By understanding their differences and specific care requirements, you can successfully grow and appreciate these two exquisite garden beauties in your outdoor space. Whether you choose the vibrant, tropical flair of the canna lily or the elegant charm of the calla lily, both options promise to add a touch of splendour to your garden.