A Wetland Treasure

Louisiana canna (Canna glauca) ~ Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Nacogdoches

With its feet firmly planted in the water, its long, slender leaves arrayed around a sturdy stalk, and its gently curving petals, the plant’s appearance first suggested an iris: a beautiful if somewhat puzzling version of the irises native to Texas.

In fact, I’d come across Canna glauca, a member of the Canna family native to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina in the United States. The plant favors a wet environment, and  often goes by the names water canna, or Louisiana canna. The specific epithet glauca refers to its blue-green leaves.

I’ve never been a fan of so-called canna lilies, which aren’t lilies at all, but members of a genus which originated in tropical areas of the Americas before being introduced into other parts of the world. But C. glauca, less frowsy than many canna cultivars, caught my eye with its color and simpler form.

Its seed pods are as interesting as the flower is beautiful, and reminiscent of some exotic Asian fruit. Although cannas are easily propagated by dividing their underground rhizomes, they can be started from seed.

Each pod contains one to three fairly large black seeds which require scarification, soaking, and consistent warmth for germination to occur. It seems to be quite a process, but the reward is obvious: another native canna to enjoy.


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “A Wetland Treasure

  1. Like you, I don’t care for the common, tropical cannas. Your find really is nice–simple, but eye-catching and certainly appropriate for a wetland.

    1. Even though I don’t garden, I did notice that this one is willing to thrive in clay soils — which would make it a great addition to Houston gardens. I thought it was interesting that this species and C. indica were the basis for many of the most popular cultivars. Sometimes the plant breeders go a little too far when it comes to gilding the lily!

      1. “Gild the lily” is one of those misquotations that has become much better known than the original metaphor. Here’s what Shakespeare wrote in King John:

        “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

        1. I’m certainly no Shakespeare, but some time ago I had the same thoughts (even though I can’t figure out how to format them properly in the comment box):

          if you must.
          Fit filigree
          ‘round stem or stamen,
          re-saturate the sky.
          Pretend your dew be diamonds,
          your webs a finer silk. Yet Spring —
          her breeze, her birds and brooks — still breathes this
          quiet wisdom: “What is, is good enough.”

    1. I was thinking about the cannas more often found in gardens, and realized that many of them remind me of another plant we share: Thalia dealbata, or the powdery alligator flag. When in full bloom, it has that same messiness that characterizes cannas, and when I looked it up, I was surprised to see that one of its common names is water canna. Apparently other people have seen the resemblance, too.

    1. You just confirmed my conclusion that cannas would enjoy Houston soil. That tendency to spread and thrive probably explains why the cannas are so common around old homesteads. There are areas around Palacios and the middle coast where they’re everywhere — not the natives, but the more common cultivars.

    1. The joke is that I couldn’t identify the plant until I was browsing through images of water lilies, and found this species tucked in with them. I was so firmly convinced it was an iris, I just couldn’t broaden the scope of my search. Once I knew it was a canna, I found information everywhere. Confirmation bias: it’s not just for politics any more!

    1. I especially like the color. It’s almost lemon meringue pie yellow, and that’s my favorite pie in the whole world (except for apple with cheddar or pecan).

    1. And here’s a bit of word-play for you that I think works, and that I discovered quite by accident. The grammar section in the Wiki page on the Scots language says, “The negative particle is ‘na’ (sometimes spelled ‘nae’), as in ‘canna’ (can’t); ‘daurna’ (daren’t); and ‘michtna’ (mightn’t).” So, there could be a sentence like, “I canna see a canna in your garden.”

  2. Another beauty! Linda, you’re on a roll! We don’t have enough wetlands here for growing canna lilies, so unless I plan a trip south, this might be as close as I can get to them. Not that I’m not eager for hitting the road, but things aren’t making that easy right now. Sigh.

    1. I hear that sigh, and I recognize its tone. I’ve sighed in just that tone myself a time or two. Work and family responsibilities are unfortunate constraints.

      I’ll not be growing these cannas, but I’m glad to know where I can admire them. There may even be some closer to home; I’ll have to look. Did you pick out a pot of mums at the pumpkin patch? If you did, you’ll need to show them to us. They’re beautiful, too!

  3. Well, I love the cannas, and this cousin is really beautiful. I also love the seed pods and now I’m wondering if the photo I took at Southern Exposure, which looks similar but red, might be a seed pod from a canna. I’ll post it soon — maybe you’ll know!

    1. Jeanie, I’m just sure it will be the same. I sneaked a peek at a page of canna seed pods, and there were red ones — purple, too. And some were green turning to red; they’re just so unique and beautiful. Sometimes I think there’s nothing that Southern Exposure doesn’t have. No wonder you enjoy it so much. (Now I’m thinking about a wreath using red and green canna seed pods — wouldn’t that be something?)

      1. Do make the wreath — I’d love to see it! Yes, I think you’re right about Southern Exposure. I always, always see something new, no matter how many times I’ve been there!

  4. Ahem! We grow those Cannas you just dissed. Just kidding, I mean we do but no dis perceived. Actually, we had stopped growing them because they are so prolific (as automatic gardener mentioned) but a neighbor asked if she could dig up some of our lilies of the valley (also ridiculously prolific) and she brought us a couple of tubers.
    If we had some of this species I don’t think we would have stopped. Such a lovely yellow and those seed pods are reason enough to appreciate the plants.

    1. Maybe I’ve seen too few lovingly tended cannas, Steve. Most of those I’ve come across look like escapees from unhappy circumstances, and they look like they’ve been on the road a long time. I’m sure yours aren’t quite so frowsy.

      One of the complaints I hear from gardeners here is about the difficulty of dealing with our gumbo clay; recipes for amending soil are as common in our area as recipes for chili. I can understand the appeal of a plant that will thrive in those conditions, but apparently these cannas are the thrivingnest.

      The joke is that it took me so long to identify it. As I mentioned to Derrick, it wasn’t until I was browsing through images of water lilies that I found photos of this species tucked in with them. I was so firmly convinced it was an iris, I couldn’t see it as anything else. Thank goodness for serendipity.

      1. There are times when I find a flower and, seemingly having seen pictures of it before, know what it is. Then there are times when I find a flower in the field that I have shot before and can’t remember what it is. And then there are times such as this for you…I think I know what it must be but it turns out to not, most often in pleasant surprise.

        Part of what may attribute to the way cannas look when you see them there is the environment possibly. With your warmer year round weather they may just stay in the ground through all seasons. Here we must dig them up and keep them in a cool place surrounded by sphagnum peat to replant in the spring when all frost is past. They get separated and planted individually, making them quite prolific, and leading to being almost as difficult to give away as zucchini.

        1. You’re right, of course. They do stay in the ground year round, which means they get beaten up a bit by the winter weather, and then come back in the spring. Even our banana trees make it through most winters, and if they do freeze and turn brown and mushy, they’ll almost always come back. I have banana plants outside my bedroom window, and they’ve even made fruit a few times. It’s not as tasty as those in the stores, but I haven’t tried cooking them like plantain.

          Ah, zucchini. I know what it’s like to try to avoid that veggie in high summer. No wonder your cannas proliferate as they do.

    1. I kept thinking that your sentence could have been “Canna see any cannas here!” and I finally figured out the reason. A search for “canna dialect” took me to this page on the Scots language, where I found this: “The negative particle is ‘na’ (sometimes spelled ‘nae’), as in ‘canna’ (can’t); ‘daurna’ (daren’t); and ‘michtna’ (mightn’t).

      Now, that’s a bit of lagniappe for you.

  5. If I hadn’t already had knowledge about cannas, I’d fall in love instantly with how you’ve portrayed it. The difference though is noted.

    1. I thought the combination of buds and flowers was striking, and I was pleased to be able to separate them a bit. The sword-like leaves were so different from the cannas I’d seen, they helped to keep me going down the iris track, although I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the seed pods. If I’d thought to use Tineye, or any other reverse image search, I could have done it quickly.

  6. Oh, that one brought back memories. My parents built a house which we moved into the summer I turned 6. My mom planted red cannas along the back of the house, underneath the picture window. The leaves were a venous purple, quite different from the blue-green leaves of the one above, but I remember those seed pods, and those seeds, pea sized and black. I had a little cache of those black seeds among my treasures. I wish we’d had some of these, though. What a glorious yellow that is.

    1. Those veined leaves you mentioned — and the plainer green ones, too — remind me of banana leaves. I read somewhere along the line that the larger leaves are used in cooking, just like banana leaves; they’re used to wrap foods being placed in the fire.

      It seems the seeds have played a role in history as well as gardening. They’re so hard that they were used as rifle ammunition in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny.

      Isn’t it interesting how well we remember some of those details of early homes? For me, it’s the forsythia, pussy willow, flowering almond, and hollyhocks surrounding our first house.

  7. Wonderful close ups of a really beautiful flower that I had no idea existed until I saw it here in your post. I must say that the seed head is just about as striking as the flower. Both shots are marvelous.

    1. And I had no idea it existed until I found it happily blooming at the edge of its pond. I agree with you that the seed head’s equally interesting. It surprised me to learn that it produces so few seeds. From photos, it appears that other species (perhaps cultivars?) produce far more seed. But best of all for me is that color. I do love a pretty yellow.

    1. I see a few in the groceries, but when I did an image search for spiny fruit, I was astonished by the number of results. One of these days I need to broaden my horizons and try some of them.

    1. I’m fond of pure yellows, and this flower certainly provides a yellow that’s to my taste. The yellow-green of the seed capsules is a wonderful complement, too. I didn’t realize at the time that I’d managed to find a plant with seed capsules in various stages of development. That makes their photo even more interesting.

  8. What beautiful light and background you obtained! Canna glauca used to be really common in the Caribbean. However, this plant is not just from South America nor tropical origin. Native Americans also had many uses for it.

    Some time ago I investigated why they were called ‘cannas’. ‘Lily’ is a misnomer, as ‘canna’ stems from Latin ‘canna’ (“reed”), and from Ancient Greek ‘kánna’. In Spanish ‘canna’ is ‘caña’, meaning the same thing: ‘cane’, or ‘reed-like’, as without blooms that’s exactly what they look like: the hollow jointed stem of a tall grass, especially bamboo or sugar cane.

    1. It was a cloudy day, Maria, so even at high noon the light was diffuse and pleasing, without the kind of contrast that can make things difficult.

      I did read about various uses for the plant: not only medicinally, but also in cooking. One of the details that interested me was using the broader leaves of C. indica as a wrap for food, much as banana leaves or corn husks are used. I read that in the mountains of Peru the roots of their local canna are baked in ground pits with coals and hot rocks covered with dirt for twelve hours or so, and sometimes the cooked starch is used for thickening or flour.

      I don’t have a photo that shows that reed-like structure, but I remember it. Now that I think of it, the leaves of C. glauca look rather like bamboo or sugar cane, too.

      1. I also read that the roots were the ones that were edible in some cultures. What I found out about recently was that the ‘Indian Shot’ name came not because Native Americans used the seeds as bullets, but the settlers did. There’s not that much literature on them anyway and this is why there was some controversy about the plant being native to the U.S. or not, as you pointed out.

        1. I don’t recall finding any reference to the seeds being used as ammunition in this country, although they might have been, where the plant was more plentiful. Apparently they were used in the East Indian Sepoy rebellion against British rule in 1857-1859; in that case, ‘Indian’ refers not to our Native Americans, but to residents of the Indian subcontinent. It’s a good thing we finally started using the phrase ‘Native Americans,’ to help keep some of these confusions sorted out.

          1. That’s exactly what I read also Linda. Supposedly it didn’t even take place here! It just pays to read on about these ‘stories’, although they might have been true, this ‘Indian shot’ name confused me when I first read about the plant!

        1. That was an interesting read. The references to ‘Indian shot’ being used in jewelry and rosaries in the country of India accords with the reports of the seeds being used as ammunition in the Sepoy Rebellion — clearly, the plant was there.

    1. Aren’t they something? I’m so glad that I was able to find them in various stages of development, from small to large. Actually, I’m glad I found them at all!

    1. I certainly had no idea. These are such elegant flowers. I like the way the buds mimic the straight, slender leaves. The flower’s almost architectural in its form.

    1. The pods kept reminding me of another “something else,” and I finally remembered. They look like those crazy chew toys for dogs — the colorful round rubber balls that are surrounded by spikes. I still can’t believe how long I looked and looked at those buds and flowers, certain they were iris, but unable to identify them. It was that certainty that kept me from doing something reasonable, like emailing the native plant center and just asking!

  9. The canna flower is gorgeous, the photograph as well. I thought of iris when I saw your image. Turns out that canna are cousins to the tropical Heliconia, both in the order Zingiberales (gingers). The seed pods have a wonderful texture – they look great wet.

    1. “Zingiberales” made me laugh. When I looked it up, I was surprised to see how many familiar plants are in that order: not only ginger, but banana, too. The bird of paradise plant belongs there, too, and when I looked at the sharp, spiky bloom of that plant, it reminded me of these spiky buds. It’s interesting to me that there’s such a contrast between the buds and the seed pods. I was lucky to be there on a day when I could photograph both.

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