1. Family: Araceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Zantedeschia Spreng.
      1. Zantedeschia aethiopica (L.) Spreng.

        Zantedeschia aethiopica is one of the world's most iconic and widely known plants. Although commonly known as the arum lily or calla lily, it is not a lily at all but an aroid, with its brilliant white spathe (floral bract) surrounding the central pale yellow spadix (floral spike) bearing tiny flowers.


    Araceae, S.J. Mayo. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1985

    This species is easily distinguished from Z. albomaculata by its pure white spathes and the numerous clavate-spathulate staminodes scattered among the pistillate flowers.

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Zantedeschia aethiopica , has been known to European horticulture since at least the 1660s and is one of the world's most iconic and widely known plants. Although commonly known as the arum lily or calla lily, it is not a lily at all but an aroid, with its brilliant white spathe (floral bract) surrounding the central pale yellow spadix (floral spike) bearing tiny flowers.

    Carl Linnaeus described it in 1753 as Calla aethiopica and it has been commonly known as the calla lily ever since. The species epithet 'aethiopica' refers to the fact that it is native to Africa. In 1826 Sprengel transferred it to a new genus which he called Zantedeschia. According to Cythna Letty (1973), the name was probably given in honour of Giovanni Zantedeschi, an Italian botanist who lived in the early 19th century.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    The arum lily is native to South Africa (provinces of Limpopo, North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Western Cape, Eastern Cape), Lesotho and Swaziland. It grows in marshy places from 20 to 2,250 metres above sea level. Although native to Southern Africa it is also widely naturalised throughout the tropics.


    The arum lily is well known for its striking appearance when in flower, with a brilliant white floral bract wrapping around a yellow finger-like projection in the centre. The flowering parts arise from a ring of glossy green leaves. 

    Zantedeschia aethiopica is a perennial herb growing up to 60 cm tall (or taller in the shade). It has a thick, fleshy, underground rhizome (swollen stem).

    The leaves are evergreen, hairless and form a rosette. The leaves are somewhat leathery, and usually broadly oval with lobes at the base. The inflorescence (flowering part) is on a stalk up to 60 cm long. The spathe (floral bract) is about 15 cm long and 12 cm wide. It is ivory-white on the inside and the outside is bright green at the base and gradually becomes white towards the top. The lower part forms a wide-mouthed funnel, and the much wider upper part spreads out with its tip curled under. The spadix (floral spike) has an upper zone of about 7 cm long, which is covered with tiny bright yellow anthers (male parts). These produce slender threads of white pollen when ripe. The spadix also has a lower zone, which is covered with yellow-green to whitish pistils (female parts) interspersed with mushroom-shaped sterile structures. The fruits are green berries which become soft and orange-coloured at the base when ripe.


    All parts of the plant are poisonous, causing irritation and swelling of the mouth and acute gastric diarrhoea. The sap can cause eczema and dermatitis of the skin and is also an irritant to the mucous membranes and eyes. In southern Africa, where the species occurs naturally, the leaves and rhizomes are traditionally used to dress wounds and bites. The leaves and rhizomes are also reported to be eaten, but only following careful preparation to remove the needle-like calcium oxalate crystals, known as raphides.  

    Due to its striking inflorescences,  Zantedeschia aethiopica  is very popular as cut flowers and as an ornamental. It is used as a symbol of purity in bridal and funeral flower arrangements.

    Scientists have shown that Zantedeschia aethiopica  may be useful in artificial wetland systems to clean waste water and prevent algal growth.


    This moderately hardy monocotyledon can be grown outside in the UK. In any position it will grow best in moist soil or shallow water. In its natural habitat it can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on the rainfall and soil water rather than temperature. The position in which it is planted will also determine size and flowering. Planting under shade is preferable if there is no boggy position for this plant, but this will reduce the number of flowers and result in a smaller plant. Fertile soil is required. In optimum conditions a good display of flowers can be enjoyed in the spring and summer.

    Propagation can be by seed or division. Seeds can be removed from the pulp of the fruit when it has turned yellow or orange and soft but gloves should be worn due to the toxicity of the plant. The seeds should then be dried off for sowing in the spring. They should be sown sparingly to allow space for the fleshy roots to form. A seed compost should be used and the seeds covered lightly. Division of the fleshy rootstock should be done when the plant is dormant. It can then be planted at a depth of 5 cm.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Germination testing: Successful

    Arum lily at Kew

    You can see Zantedeschia aethiopica growing at Kew in the Duke's Garden, on the south side by the wall. There are also extensive plantings along the stream in the Secluded Garden, and a large planting of the popular cultivar ‘Crowborough’ can be seen in the Plant Family Beds.

    South Africa
    Marshy places in Southern Africa.
    Classified as Least Concern (LC) according to the IUCN Red List criteria.

    All parts of the plant are poisonous, causing irritation and swelling of the mouth and acute gastric diarrhoea.

    Is cultivated throughout the world for its beautiful inflorescences and has escaped from cultivation in various parts of the tropics in cooler upland areas, e.g. Tanzania, Matalu 3309!, Batty 635!



    Found In:

    Cape Provinces, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Northern Provinces, Swaziland

    Introduced Into:

    Albania, Algeria, Azores, Bermuda, Brazil Northeast, California, Canary Is., Corse, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, East Aegean Is., Ecuador, Great Britain, Greece, Hawaii, Italy, Madeira, Mexico Southwest, Morocco, Mozambique, New South Wales, New Zealand North, Nicaragua, Norfolk Is., Oregon, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Réunion, Sardegna, Sicilia, Society Is., South Australia, Spain, St.Helena, Trinidad-Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Tunisia, Victoria, Western Australia, Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe

    Common Names

    Arum lily

    Zantedeschia aethiopica (L.) Spreng. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Mayo, S. [854], Bahia K000303422
    Mayo, S. [854], Bahia K000303423
    Mayo, S. [854], Bahia K000303424
    Mayo, S. [854], Bahia K000303425

    First published in Syst. Veg. 3: 765 (1826)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Parslow, R. & Bennallick, I. (2017) The new flora of the Isles of Scilly . Parslow Press
    • [2] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [3] (2015) Willdenowia 45: 261-278
    • [4] (2013) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [5] (2013) Phytologia Balcanica 19: 131-157
    • [7] (2013) Willdenowia 43: 165-184
    • [8] (2012) Flora Mediterranea 22: 191-196
    • [9] (2012) Flora Zambesiaca 12(1): 1-54. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [10] (2012) Informatore Botanico Italiano 44: 111-119
    • [11] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [12] Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012) Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies) , ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
    • [13] (2010) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 1: 1-455. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [14] Gremmen, N. & Halbertsma, R.L. (2009) Alien plants and their impact on Tristan da Cunha 2: 1-307. Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP)
    • [16] Castroviejo, S. & al. (eds.) (2008) Flora Iberica 18: 1-420. Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid
    • [17] (2003) Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica 2: 1-694. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis
    • [20] Govaerts, R. & Frodin, D.G. (2002) World Checklist and Bibliography of Araceae (and Acoraceae) . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [21] (2001) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 85: i-xlii, 1-2666
    • [22] Welsh, S.L. (1998) Flora Societensis . E.P.S. Inc. Utah
    • [25] (1994) Flora of Australia 49: 1-681. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra


    • [6] (2013) Rodriguésia; Revista do Instituto de Biologia Vegetal, Jardim Botânico e Estaçao Biologica do Itatiaya 64: 445-477
    • [15] van Wyk, B.-E., van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. (2009).  Medicinal Plants of South Africa.  Briza Publications, Pretoria.
    • [18] Belmont, M.A. & Metcalfe, C.D. (2003). Feasibility of using ornamental plants ( Zantedeschia aethiopica) in subsurface flow treatment wetlands to remove nitrogen, chemical oxygen demand and nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants - a laboratory-scale study. Ecological Engineering 21: 233-247.
    • [19] Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) (2003). Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria (Strelitzia vol. 14), p. 972.
    • [23] Hutchings, A., Haxton Scott, A., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A. (1996). Zulu Medicinal Plants: an Inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
    • [24] Singh, Y., van Wyk, A.E. & Baijnath, H. (1995). Know your arums: an easy guide to identify members of the genus Zantedeschia. Veld & Flora 81: 54-55.
    • [26] Brown, L.C. (1982) The Flora and Fauna of St Helena . Land Resources Development Centre, Surbiton, England
    • [27] Letty, C. (1973). The genus Zantedeschia. Bothalia. 11: 5-26.
    • [28] Britton, N. (1918) Flora of Bermuda . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
    • [29] South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website: www.plantzafrica.com


    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    Flora of Tropical East Africa
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    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
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