Zantedeschia aethiopica (L.) Spreng.

First published in Syst. Veg., ed. 16. 3: 765 (1826)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is S. Africa. It is a tuberous geophyte and grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome. It is used as a poison and a medicine, has environmental uses and for food.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

LC - least concern

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá.

Naturalizada en Colombia; Alt. 100 - 150 m.; Andes.
Morphology General Habit
No Evaluada

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia.

cartucho, cartucho amarillo, cartucho blanco, rascador

CATE Araceae, 17 Dec 2011.


Robust evergreen plant up to 60 cm high, without a dark purple area at the base of the spathe inside; the ovaries are interspersed with staminodes; and the limb, which is consistently ivory-white is broad and widely spreading backwards. In typical plants the spadix is bright yellow. Petiole smooth, without bristles; female flowers interspersed with staminodes.

See also Singh, Y., van Wyk, A.E. & Baijnath, H. (1995). Know your arums: an easy guide to identfy members of the genus Zantedeschia. Veld & Flora 81: 54 - 55.
General Description
Plants glabrous up to 60 cm tall (sometimes up to 2,5 m under trees). LEAVES evergreen, up to 60 cm long; petiole green; blade usually immaculate, characteristically more or less spreading and leathery, varied in shape but usually broadly ovate-cordate or hastate, 15-20 cm long, 10-15 cm broad at the base, apex obtuse or acute, the length of the blade above the basal lobes usually less than twice the width. INFLORESCENCE: Peduncle 30-60 cm long, green, glabrous, triangular in cross-section, 2,5 x 2 cm at base. Spathe about 15 cm long, 12 cm broad, ivory-white inside, bright green at base outside merging into white upwards, longitudinally veined, folded from slightly below the insertion of the spadix into a wide-mouthed funnel, limb obliquely spreading, ending in a green recurving 2 cm long apiculus. Spadix sessile, male zone about 7 cm long, anthers bright yellow, 1,5-2 mm long, 1-1,5 mm broad with 2 pores, pollen white; female zone about 1,8 cm long, ovaries interspersed with numerous mushroom-shaped staminodes; ovaries about 4 mm long, globose, grooved, pale yellow-green grading to whitish at the tip, tapering to a short style 1,5 mm long, 3 locular, each locule with 1-4 ovules. INFRUCTESCENCE: Fruits numerous 1,2 cm long, 1-1,2 cm in diam. across the top, green at first, becoming soft and orange coloured at the base and greenish at the apex when ripe, tapering to a triangular base with a short persistent style at the apex, seeds 1-12.
Native to South Africa in Provinces : Limpopo, North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Western Cape, Eastern Cape
Plants of this species grow in marshy depressions
Its main flowering period is from August until January, but in Natal and the Transvaal occasional flowers are found from February to July.

J. R. Timberlake, E. S. Martins (2012). Flora Zambesiaca, Vol 12 (part 1) Araceae. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

White Arum.
Morphology General Habit
Robust evergreen plant up to 60 cm high
Morphology Leaves Petiole
Petiole smooth
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Typically the spadix is bright yellow; female flowers interspersed with staminodes. Inflorescence without a dark purple area at base of spathe inside and on limb, which is consistently ivory- white, broad and widely spreading backwards
Zimbabwe, Mozambique. Cultivated throughout the world, now naturalised in various parts of tropical America, in S Europe, the Philippines, New Zealand and elsewhere.
It is easily distinguished from Z. albomaculata by its pure white spathes and the numerous clavate- spathulate staminodes scattered among the female 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.


Biogeografic region: Andean. Elevation range: 100–2000 m a.s.l. Naturalised in Colombia. Colombian departments: Amazonas, Bogotá DC, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Putumayo, Risaralda.
IUCN Red List Assessment (2021): LC.
Habitat according IUCN Habitats Classification: forest and woodland, shrubland, wetlands (inland), artificial - terrestrial.


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!

Use Environmental
Environmental uses.
Use Food
Used for food.
Use Medicines
Medical uses.
Use Poisons

Common Names

Arum lily, Cape Arum Lily


  • CATE Araceae

    • Haigh, A., Clark, B., Reynolds, L., Mayo, S.J., Croat, T.B., Lay, L., Boyce, P.C., Mora, M., Bogner, J., Sellaro, M., Wong, S.Y., Kostelac, C., Grayum, M.H., Keating, R.C., Ruckert, G., Naylor, M.F. and Hay, A., CATE Araceae, 17 Dec 2011.
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