Flowers have been associated with certain feelings and ideas for thousands of years, and many flowers have kept their meanings through the years. The calla lily is a flower with a long history, and it is an interesting case because it carries with it contradictory meanings.
Calla lilies are natives of southern Africa, particularly from the range of South Africa to Malawi and the island of Madagascar. It is not known when the calla lily first made its way to Europe, but the plants have been grown for centuries, and they can thrive in greenhouses.
In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, the lily represented the goddess Hera, from whom it was believed the flowers came. The myth is that Zeus brought his mortal son Hercules to his wife Hera to nurse from her as she slept. Zeus wanted his son to have divine powers from drinking Hera’s milk, but because the child was from another woman, Hera flung Hercules away from her when she woke up. Her milk flew out through the universe to create the Milky Way, and a few drops fell to Earth, where beautiful white lilies sprung from the ground. In Roman mythology, Venus, the goddess of love and lust, saw the flowers, and in a fit of jealousy over their beauty, she made them grow a large pistil in their center.
Meaning and Symbolism
The calla lily has meant different things at different periods in history, but its classic meaning is considered to be magnificent beauty. For the ancient Romans, lilies symbolized lust and sensuality because of their large pistils, which were considered to be very phallic. However with the rise of Christianity, the calla lily was thought to represent chastity, virtue and purity, and was associated with the Virgin Mary. Both cultures considered calla lilies to be symbols of fertility and abundance. Calla lilies have become a common favorite in wedding ceremonies, but in contrast, lilies are also associated with death. They were often used on the graves of youths who suffered an untimely death.
Calla lilies thrive in tropical environments where it is consistently warm with rainy seasons and dry seasons. As long as the plants receive enough warmth and moisture, they can bloom all year long.
Although calla lilies are thought of as classically white, today they are available in a wide variety of colors, including yellow, orange, pink and purple. Calla lilies make great cut flowers because they are long lasting, which makes them a popular choice for everything from wedding bouquets to decorative flower arrangements.