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Miscellaneous ornamental cannas

Miscellaneous ornamental cannas

Canna is the only genus in the family Cannaceae.  The genus consists of 19 species of flowering plants from the tropical and subtropical regions of the New World.  Although sometimes called “lilies” they are not true lilies at all–their closest relatives are the bananas and the arrowroots.

Aquatic Cannas as the Centerpiece of a water garden at Longwood Gardens

Aquatic Cannas as the Centerpiece of a water garden at Longwood Gardens

Canna flowers are notable for huge colorful stamens—the highly modified structures of which are mistaken for petals (cannas actually have tiny easily overlooked petals).  Although cannas are a rich source of starches, they are predominantly known as ornamental flowers and they are grown as annuals far outside of their native tropics. They are popular around the world, and indeed they have become invasive in Old World tropical regions of Asia and Africa.

Red Canna

Red Canna

My roommate and I went to the flower nursery and she insisted on buying a canna (which I then thought looked vulgar and tacky) for our shared garden.  Yet the canna has proved itself a worthy garden plant many times over.  Not only are its pretty flowers an unrivaled shade of fire-engine red, it is also vigorous in the sweltering July heat and it beautifully matches the giant green elephant ears which I have planted.  The garden looks strangely tropical and magnificent with these exotic yet hardy plants.  Maybe next year I will be looking for cannas of additional colors.  It is a really lovely flower. I am sorry I initially dismissed it because of its unusual shape!  There’s probably some sort of lesson there…

I wish this were my garden!

I wish this were my garden!

Psyché obtenant de Proserpine l'elixir de beauté (Charles-Joseph Natoire, 1735)

Psyché obtenant de Proserpine l’elixir de beauté (Charles-Joseph Natoire, 1735)

This blog has addressed many different deities of the underworld, but one of the most important figures of classical Greco-Roman underworld mythology has been left out.  Persephone (or Proserpine to the Romans) was the queen of the underworld, the reluctant consort of Hades who ruled over a dark and mournful kingdom (as pictured above).  However Persephone was one of the few figures in classical mythology who could leave the underworld.  Like her mother Demeter, Persephone  was a vegetation goddess—a deity that dies and is reborn with the annual growth cycle of plants.

Persephone was not just the queen of the underworld, but also the goddess of spring.  When she emerged from the underworld, winter ended and life begin to grow and flower again.  The vase below shows her returning with Hermes from the dark realm so that spring could once more come and winter’s darkness be banished for another year.

The Return of Persephone (Attic Red Figure Vase, Greek Classical Period)

The Return of Persephone (Attic Red Figure Vase, Greek Classical Period)

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