This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Spathe open and spreading, ovate, persistent; spadix oblong, entirely covered with flowers; the lower perfect and hexandrous, the upper often of stamens only; floral envelopes none; filaments slender; anthers two-celled, opening lengthwise; ovary one-celled, with five to nine anatropous ovules; stignia almost sessile; berries (red) distinct, few-seeded; seeds with a conspicuous raphe, and an embryo nearly the length of the hard albumen. (Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. See also Wood's Class-Book of Botany.)
THE derivation of the name Calla is uncertain. Prof. Wood and others believe it is from a Greek word which signifies "beautiful"; but though many of the Aroid order are interesting, there are none so striking for their beauty as to suggest a name specially based on that quality. Dr. Gray seems to be of the same opinion, as he confines himself to saying that Calla is "an ancient name of unknown meaning." Some of the plants comprised in the genus were certainly known by this name in very remote times; and Dalechamp, a French author of many years ago, believed it was already applied to a species belonging to this family by the ancient writer Pliny. Linnceus, finding it in use in connection with this plant, adopted it as it now stands. If we felt inclined to hazard a mere guess ourselves, we might perhaps say that, inasmuch as most of the species likely to have been known to the ancients are of a peculiar tint of green, the name probably originated in a word denoting a sea-green color.
The Calla palustris is extremely interesting, in studying the natural orders of plants, as affording a good lesson on the uncertainty of characters derived from mere sexual distinctions. As noted in our botanical references at the head of this article, Dr. Lindley classes our plant in the natural order Orontiaccae, which was divided from the true Annus, as they were then considered, by R. Brown. In support of this arrangement, Dr. Lindley says: "The greater part of these plants (Orontiads) have the habit of Arads, with which they are usually associated, and from which, in fact, they differ only in having hermaphrodite flowers, which have usually a scaly perianth." But as we see by the description we have given from Dr. Gray, our plant often has the upper flowers staminate only, and there is, therefore, no morphological reason why all the flowers might not be so under some circumstances. In like manner, we have in our plant an absence of the perianth, which, Dr. Lindley remarks, should "usually exist" in the order. These and other considerations fully justify American botanists in not recognizing Orontiaccce as a natural order.
The resemblance, in general appearance, of our plant to the common Calla, or Richardia AEthiopica of our gardens, is very striking; and indeed the two were for a long time associated together under the same family name. But the Egyptian plant has been separated by Kunth, under the name of Richardia, because the anthers have no filaments, - are sessile, - and because of a difference in the cell-divisions of the ovary. Stress is also laid on the fact that, while in Richardia the spathe is convolute, and folds around the spadix as a perianth would do in an ordinary flower, in the true Calla it is flattened and exposes the spadix to full view.
It is quite remarkable that so pretty a native plant has not found its way into general culture; for though not so striking as its sister, the Richardia, or Calla Lily, it has the great advantage of being thoroughly hardy, while the other is destroyed by a very little frost. It seems to be more appreciated in England than here; for Mr. Robinson, in his work on "Alpine Flowers" cultivated in English gardens, pays it a high compliment. He says: "More beauty (in an Alpine garden) than any native plant affords, results from planting in boggy places this small, trailing Arad, which has pretty little spathes of the color of those of its relative, the Ethiopian Lily. It is thoroughly hardy, and though often grown in water, likes a moist bog much better. In a bog or muddy place, shaded by trees to some extent, it will grow larger in flower and leaf than in water, though it is quite at home when fully exposed. In a bog carpeted by the dark-green leaves of this plant, the effect is very pleasing, as its white flowers crop up here and there along each rhizome, just raised above the leaves. Those having natural bogs would find it a very interesting plant to introduce to them; and for the moist, spongy spots near the rock garden, or by the side of a rill, it is one of the best things that can be used." We may add that those who have no moist places on their grounds can cultivate this and similar plants by filling small kegs with earth and sinking them in the ground to their rim. As the water cannot readily escape, a sort of a natural bog results, which suits these plants very well in the stead of their natural habitats.
The Bog-Arum is not only a native of the United States, but is also common in Northeastern Europe, and its hardiness may be well understood from its being a very common plant in Lapland. In some of these high northern regions, it seems, indeed, to grow with more luxuriance than it ever reaches in our country. An old writer speaks of it as, in these high latitudes, "growing so vigorously as often to exclude other plants, and occupy whole marshes alone by themselves. They have a hot, biting taste, and yet bread is made from the roots." An English writer of several centuries ago also speaks of an "Aron known as Starch-wort"; and it is quite likely that the species native with us is the one alluded to; for Dr. Lindley says: "The rhizomes of Calla palustris, although acrid and caustic to the highest degree, arc, according to Linnaeus, made into a kind of bread in high estimation in Lapland. This is performed by drying and grinding the roots, afterwards boiling and macerating them till they are deprived of their acrimony, when they are baked like other farinaceous substances. It is called missebroed in Lapland. The plant has the reputation of being a very active diaphoretic."
Besides in Lapland, it is also reported as being very abundant in Norway and Sweden, Holland, Germany, and Russia, to Siberia. In our own country, Dr. Gray records it as being found in "cold bogs, New England to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and common northwards"; and Prof. Wood, as "in shallow waters, Pennsylvania to New England, Wisconsin and British America." Prof. Porter records it as being gathered by him in Northwestern New Jersey. The "Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club," of New York, gives, as special locations, "New Durham Swamp," and "Orange County, New York." It seems rather common in Wisconsin, and was found in the northern part of the State of Ohio by Mr. Beardslee. All the leading authors seem to make Pennsylvania its southern limit, but it is included in old lists of the flora of the District of Columbia, though not in the catalogue of the modern "Potomac Naturalists' Field Club." It has not been the writer's privilege to find it wild anywhere himself, and the specimen from which the accompanying drawing was made was gathered in the neighborhood of Boston by Mr. Jackson Dawson.
The specific name palustris is, of course, in reference to the marshy places in which the plant grows. Its common name in England, according to Mr. Robinson, is "Bog-Arum." Dr. Gray gives the common name in New England as "Water-Arum." As we have to choose between the two, and Mr. Robinson says it grows better in wet land than in water, we have placed "Bog-Arum" at the head of our description.
1. Rhizome and complete plant.
2. Scape, with fruit approaching maturity.
3. Single flower, with stamens and ovary magnified.
4. Cross section of. the ovary, showing portion of the ovules.