August’s plant in focus is Canna indica...
The canna lily, Indian shot or Canna indica is a majestic plant conjuring visions of Jurassic abundance with leaves large enough to sustain the largest herbivores on the planet, well if you are a 3-year-old boy with a wild imagination they are!! Although I am not, my son is and we live at a Honey I Shrunk the Kids level in the garden, albeit with plastic dinos! In fact, this plant has many fantastical associations to inspire adults and children alike.
For instance, why is it called the Indian Shot? Is it a Swallows and Amazons plaything from a time when the health and safety of playing with something potentially poisonous was more laissez-faire? Perfectly round, the seed would be exceptional for blow darts? In fact, they resemble the ball-bearing shots used in guns. It is reported that during the Indian Uprising of 1857, soldiers (I am not sure which side) ran out of bullets and used them instead! My horti-curious mind begs the question; as they originated in South America, how did they come to be there? Well, of course, it was the plant hunters! Man’s insatiable desire to own and grow wherever they lay their Indiana Jones hat! Canna came to Europe in the 1500s, before Harrison Ford’s founding fathers were a twinkle! They arrived in the West Indies and Spain and Portugal before that. An easy plant to transport, as they would germinate even after being shot through wood! And they divide well vegetatively too; if you are thinking you would like this plant, steeped in wars and exploration, in your garden then annual division will bring you multiple plants year on year.
They are not hardy and should be lifted in the autumn, once the first frosts knock the leaves, and put in a frost-free greenhouse or shed. Alternatively, you can mulch them up high with straw held within a wire mesh to avoid the wind distributing said straw around your plot, or opt for bark for a lower bother alternative. However, like dahlias, left in the ground they are delicious to the first crop of slugs and earwigs.
So, when you see the offer at Aldi, you now know this plant has far more about it than revealed just by looking; though she is a looker, with a flower as exotic as it is colourful. But what of the threat to pets and people? Is this a poisonous plant? “Beautiful but deadly”? Well, it has a bad rep. They aren’t poisonous but can cause a tummy ache. They are related to bananas rather than lilies (which can be toxic) and roots have been eaten, like the yucca’s starchy roots, by some South American tribes but there is toxicity from calcium oxalate crystals which can build up in smaller pets and children. A good lesson to learn for dino explorers too!
For more plant facts and information visit my Facebook page @mimosagardendesign and our community group @ilovemynewgarden.
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