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The History of Calla Lilies From Ancient Times to Modern Day


Ever since I laid eyes on the beautiful calla lilies, I’ve been curious to learn more about their history. It turns out that the calla lilies have quite the interesting story, spanning centuries of time and culture. In this article, I will share with you the history of calla lilies and how they evolved from ancient Greece to modern day.

Definition and origin of Calla Lilies

Calla lilies, also known as Zantedeschia, are a species of flowering plant from the Araceae family. This unique plant has a long and varied history that dates back to ancient times and has been cultivated for centuries. Calla lilies can be found growing as wildflowers in temperate areas across Europe and Africa, although the majority of commercially-produced calla lilies are grown in greenhouses in colder climates.

The history of calla lilies is incredibly diverse. In Ancient Greek mythology, this flower was associated with the goddess Hera and the story of Io who was turned into a cow by Zeus. During this time period, calla lilies were also believed to have anti-venom powers. This lead to its frequent use in medical remedies throughout the Mediterranean regions. It wasn’t until the 19th century that hybridization allowed for more varieties of Calla Lillies to be bred with different color ranges. As such, many cultures began attributing different symbolic meanings to it. For instance, some cultures see calla lily as representing purity while others view it as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

Today, they are widely used as ornamental plants both inside and outside gardens due to their beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers and even referred t0 “the world’s most beautiful flower“. Despite gaining international popularity over time, some parts of Africa continue to associate Calla Lillies with traditional healing practices used by shamans and healers alike for various skin diseases as well as a remedy for broken hearts.

Ancient Times

As someone who’s always been drawn to the beauty of flowers, I wanted to understand the history behind calla lilies, which are a staple in flower arrangements. I decided to dig deep into the origin of these iconic flowers, starting from millions of years ago in ancient times.

From that era, I was able to uncover a few interesting facts about calla lilies and how this flower became such a popular choice even still.

Calla Lilies in Ancient Greece

The History of Calla Lilies From Ancient Times to Modern Day

The calla lily has been an integral part of Greek culture for centuries. Ancient Greeks viewed the elegant flower as a symbol of beauty and perfection, using it in many of their myths and legendry. This plant was even molded from precious metals by skilled artisans to adorn the temples across the region. Calla lilies were also used as a focal point in many homes, often placed in ornate vases or painted on pottery.

Many Greeks believed that these beautiful flowers had the power to ward off evil, thus having them always nearby was seen as both an act of worship and protection. They were also a welcome addition in funeral arrangements, symbolizing eternal life through their majestic star-like blooms that never seemed to wither away. As such, it is likely that calla lilies had an important place in many aspect of Greek culture throughout the ages and even common citizens would have regularly taken part in some form or another to celebrate them.

Calla Lilies in Ancient Rome

Calla lilies are a beautiful flower that have been around for centuries. Though they weren’t cultivated until the 17th century, calla lilies were famed even in the days of ancient Rome. It is believed that they were a favorite amongst many royal Romans who used them to decorate their homes and lavish gardens.

Calla lilies were also prized by Roman masons and architects as they symbolized victory and strength when placed on top of city walls as a protective measure against enemies. For this same reason, calla lilies were seen as status symbols of great power and success associated with members of the Roman elite class.

The bright white flowers with yellow centers became popular during the mid-16th century when botanists from Europe began growing them in their gardens. The appeal was further strengthened by classic paintings from the time period which depicted beautiful bouquets featuring the luxurious flowers alongside roses, irises, and tulips. Their presence graced formal occasions during these periods of dramatic social upheaval all across Europe as symbols of power, hope, beauty, purity and joyfulness.

Medieval Times

As a long-time admirer of calla lilies, I’m always curious to learn how this elegant flower became popular through the course of history. One of the most interesting periods during which calla lilies flourished is during the medieval times. According to historians, the calla lilies were first mentioned in literature around the year 1090 AD in the Domesday Book and were becoming popular in European gardens by the late 12th century.

Let’s explore further how the calla lilies found its way into medieval gardens:

Calla Lilies in Medieval Britain

Calla lilies have a long and interesting history, especially during Medieval Britain. During this time, popular culture considered calla lilies to be one of the most luxurious flowers emblematic with affluence and power. Often, these flowers were sent as gifts from Kings to their appointed lords or to mark special occasions between dynasties across Europe.

The calla lily was also widely used in art and literature of that time as a symbol of faithfulness, capability, and purity. For example, Lady Mary Wortley Montague wrote of the flower in her famous letters describing her journey through various royal courts while observing customs. She wrote that the flower’s simple yet amazing beauty was renowned throughout the land. Additionally, it was often referenced in famous poems such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales which stated that calla lilies could be found among some of his characters’ most treasured possessions symbolizing how much admirer they truly held for the flower.

As part of popular culture at this time, Calla Lilies were also used to adorn churches often plated over stone and brickwork alluding to their surprisingly strong strength which has stuck with many people for generations after words.

Calla Lilies in Medieval Europe

My research uncovered some interesting facts about the usage of calla lilies in medieval Europe. This majestic flower has been a symbol of purity, elegance, and beauty since its introduction to the continent over 1,000 years ago. The sight of this beautiful flower was a welcome sight after a long and often bloody history, and it quickly became part of daily life among royalty during this period.

In addition, calla lilies were also grown for more practical purposes. Not only were they popular for their ornamental qualities but they were also used as pot-herbs – which significantly improved diets which had previously lacked fresh herbs and vegetables. As such, the calla lily proved to be an invaluable asset among rural inhabitants during Medieval times.

As one might expect given their popularity among elites, calla lilies played a role in religious rituals as well, particularly those performed within Catholic monasteries. In certain ancient texts from the time, monks are known to be using calla lilies in prayers for purification and fertility; considering the average life expectancy at the time was just 30-40 years old, these prayers for fertility likely held special meaning to them!

Since then, the symbolic significance of calla lilies has remained intact through both ancient and modern history – making it an important component of artistry within our culture today. Its use has spread greatly over past centuries as well; while they’re still beautiful symbols of simplicity and devotion in many religious ceremonies today, they’re often seen at weddings too – seen as a representation of everlasting beauty and new beginnings!

Early Modern Times

Growing up in a small village, I remember hearing incredible stories about this stunning flower called the calla lily. My grandmother would tell me stories of the ancients from distant lands that used calla lilies in religious ceremonies and rituals.

After doing some research, I found out that the calla lily has a long and fascinating history that began in early modern times. Here, I’m going to take a closer look at how the calla lily made its way into our modern day world.

Calla Lilies in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was an important period in the history of calla lilies. The renowned artist, Leonardo da Vinci, is credited with painting the first still-life of a calla lily in 1505. By this time the Renaissance came with enthusiasm for learning, which included the study of botany and horticulture – and so trade in cut flowers would have been vibrant at this time.

It is believed that calla lilies were widely used as a symbol of faithfulness during this period – particularly amongst noblemen who gave them to their mistresses to express their commitment.

Calla lilies also appeared at royal court feasts, where it was commonplace for elaborate centerpieces featuring these beautiful flowers to adorn banquet tables. During this time, these blooms were artificially hybridized to create specific colors and sizes desired by the wealthy elites of the day – including variations such as red and white calla lilies. By 1600, many varieties were popular throughout Europe where they were grown primarily as ornamental plants in gardens – almost symbolic of Renaissance ideals for living a life of beauty and grace.

Calla Lilies in the Baroque Period

During the Baroque period, calla lilies were frequently depicted in works of art. Originating during this period in the 1600s, calla lilies were typically presented as the symbol of purity and innocence featured in European portraiture.

Baroque paintings often depicted women wearing long white gowns, accompanied by a background filled with golden hues and lush green foliage. Among these scenes, large blooming calla lilies often graced the sides of canvas as a representation of beauty and royalty. This trend continued into the later 18th-century Neoclassical period which followed when many painters emphasized symmetry, grandeur and frivolity to invoke a sense of luxury. Here too, lovers or muses in painting were often adorned with lavish calla lilies against somber backdrops that symbolized virtue and purity.

Admired for their scenic beauty even today, it is easy to appreciate how inspiring these works of art must have been more than two centuries ago!

Modern Times

As I look back on the history of calla lilies since ancient times, I am struck by the impact this flower has had on modern times. From the renaissance-era to royal weddings and modern fashion, the calla lily has endured through the centuries and become a symbol of beauty and grace.

Let’s explore the various ways the calla lily has been celebrated and admired in modern times:

Calla Lilies in the 19th Century

The 19th century was a period of transformation for calla lilies. They began to be featured more prominently in European art, with French painters of the day painting many works featuring the bloom. At the same time, flowers were also being cultivated commercially in France and Holland, with every attempt made to produce plants that better reflected the beauty of the species. It was during this period that new varieties began to appear, including pink and yellow flowers as well as double-flowered forms.

The popularity of calla lilies spread around Europe and by the end of the century they formed part of popular gardens in both England and Germany. Callas were widely used not only as ornamental garden plants, but also as cut flowers for decorative bouquets and displays inside homes. They began to take on symbolic meaning in many parts of Europe; for example, Swedish brides often carried a giant white calla lily at weddings as an emblem of purity and fertility.

In America too, these beautiful flowers rose in popularity during this period. Their exotic forms and vibrant colors made them ideal companions to roses in fashion-conscious Victorian gardens while florists could not keep up with demand from customers wanting exquisite arrangements made exclusively with calla lilies inside wealthy homes across America’s Eastern seaboard cities such as Boston and New York City.

Calla Lilies in the 20th Century

As the 20th century progressed, the fascination with and cultivation of calla lilies increased. In the 1950s, hybridizers became quite adept at producing varieties that were hardier and more prolific in bloom. For example, some of the most popular cultivars are ‘Sweet Juliet’, ‘Majestic Red’, and ‘Baby Doll’.

Many new varieties produce multiple calls on each stem for an even more dramatic look in both settings. They have become so popular that they have become a part of modern weddings, proms, gatherings and events.

An inexpensive way to dress up simple settings is with monochromatic groupings of white or yellow calla lilies. For a bit more sophistication or romance, mix white-and-black or tangerine-and-black varieties together in clusters. And as long as they receive adequate water and sunlight on a regular basis, your calla lilies will reward you with bloom after bloom.


Through the years, calla lilies have symbolized a variety of things, from purity and innocence in ancient times to rebirth and hope in modern day. It is remarkable how this flower has been able to stand the test of time, retaining its beauty and grace. In this essay, I have explored the history of calla lilies from ancient times to modern day, as well as their various meanings and uses.

Now, I would like to conclude our journey with a few final thoughts.

Calla Lilies in the 21st Century

While many of the traditional meanings associated with the calla lily have remained the same throughout time, its use in modern culture has evolved. They are now often used to decorate an event rather than as a symbol of religious or romantic sentiments. Whether surrounded by blooms in a garden or arranged as part of more formal bouquets and centerpieces, calla lilies have become commonplace at special occasions such as weddings, graduations and other life events.

Even though these blooms are now somewhat ubiquitous, it is important to remember that their beauty is enhanced by knowing their unique history and symbolic connotations.

The calla lily will likely continue to be coveted for its elegance and classic beauty for centuries to come. It has truly withstood any test of time – from first being planted in ancient Egyptian gardens long ago all the way through to becoming a symbol of unity shared among many cultures in the 21st century.