Sometimes when I wander through the woods and wetlands I find just one or two flowers blooming in lonely splendor. While visions of expanses of fields of wild flowers tossing their sprightly heads in dance may have been common in years past, today I am more likely to come across small remnants of what once existed.
In some cases, however, there undoubtedly always have been those lovely lone sentinels that stood guard at solitary stations throughout the wild. I know of such a flower that grows along the margin of the creek that runs through the northern reaches of my land. Whether it was once part of a more massive contingent I will never know.
With each walk down to that secluded spot, I look for its perennial white face to show. It is the flower of a single wild calla whose entrance into the early summer season I await.
This one plant bloomed in solitude for years but then a few years ago a smattering of callas appeared in the wetland down by a place I call Beaver Crossing. And then, as if to reward us for the back-breaking bushwhacking we did to create new paths around the bog this spring, I have now delightfully discovered a batch of callas blooming near Bunchberry Trail. What a find!
So what does a wild calla look like? A single broad "petal", known more technically as a spathe, partially clasps a short spike (spadix) crowded with tiny golden flowers. Large dark green, heart-shaped leaves precede the appearance of this striking wetland bloom and a fruit cluster of bright scarlet berries follow in the wake of its fade.
These exquisite flowers are members of the Arum or Calla Family, a large group that includes jack-in-the-pulpit, skunk cabbage and sweet flag. Many species have similar flower and fruit characteristics and bloom in colors of white, gray, yellow and green-brown. Leaves of arums tend to be large, smooth and glossy.
Most members, including the calla, contain needlelike crystals of calcium oxalate called acrid within their structures. Plants with this chemical compound often have drastic or unpleasant effects on humans and domestic animals.
Although referred to as calla lily, it should be called wild calla or water arum (Calla palustris). The true common calla or calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) is a native of the South African Cape of Good Hope. It, too, is part of the Arum Family but is only hardy out-of-doors in the United States in the warmest parts of southern Florida and California.
Having been successfully domesticated, the calla lily is now a popular greenhouse plant. As a matter of fact, as I write a single calla blossom graces my office. It is part of a dish garden given to my family when my grandma died.
The wild calla frequents the bogs and pond edges primarily in the forested areas of northern Minnesota, although it is also found in the central part of the state, including the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. Its occurrence is circumpolar and in North America it grows from the subarctic areas of Alaska and Canada to temperate regions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York and New Jersey, where it blooms in quiet shallow waters from May to August.
In her book, "How to Know the Wild Flowers", William Starr Dana wrote in the 1800s: "The first sight of these white spathes gleaming across a wet meadow in June, and the closer inspection of the upright, vigorous little plants, make an event in the summer. None of our aquatics is more curious and interesting, more sturdy, yet dainty and pure, than the wild calla."
As I marvel at the beauty of my secluded callas now blooming in splendor I simply have to nod in agreement.
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