Arum lily - The Zantedeschia Aethiopica

The Zantedeschia aethiopica is probably best known as the common arum lily. Zantedeschia is from the Araceae family and is a popular member of South African gardens, rewarding for its beautiful ‘flowers’ and easy growth.

Did you know? In reference to its shape, it is also called the wit varkoor in Afrikaans, which means “white pig ear”.

The Zantedeschia aethiopica has a large, white ‘flower’ that consists only of one ‘petal’ (actually a modified leaf), which curls around to form a cone shape. In the centre is a large yellow or pink floral spike, which hosts the tiny flowers of this plant. There are also pink, red, yellow and purple varieties of Zantedeschia, which are far less commonly found in nature, but make for a spectacular display. The ‘flower’ is positioned at the top of one thick stem.

These plants grow to between 60 centimetres and a metre in height, but can grow taller in well-shaded areas. The dark green leaves are long and wide with a pointed tip.

Flowering time

Although the main part of the plant is on display for most of the year, the actual little flowers only appear between August and January.

Use in the garden

Thanks to the sturdy stem and the beautiful display of the ‘flower’, these are ideal for vases and formal bouquets. They last well once cut. They also attract bees (their pollinators) and other insects, as well as birds that eat the insects and the berries.

In the Western Cape Province, a tiny frog favours these flowers. However, it is a poisonous plant, with all parts of it being toxic. If consumed in any form or quantity, it causes severe cramps, diarrhoea, swelling and vomiting, which may become life-threatening if left unattended. The leaves have been used by some rural cultures as a poultice for headaches.

Natural distribution

The Zantedeschia aethiopica has a wide distribution in South Africa. It can be found in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Limpopo Province. It opts for marshy areas that are well protected by shade.

Growing Zantedeschia aethiopica in your garden

These plants are versatile and hardy, thriving in residential gardens. They do well at the coast or inland.

They should be planted in an area with partial shade or full shade. However, it is not likely to flower well in full shade. It prefers rich soils with good drainage and plenty of water. Be aware of their poisonous qualities and educate little ones not to touch or eat them.


The Zantedeschia aethiopica can be propagated quite easily from seed or division. Seeds should be planted in the spring. They can be taken out of the fruit pulp and dried if they are not otherwise available. The rootsare chunky, and need space, so the seeds should not be planted too close to one another. Should you be splitting the plant, this should be done during the time in which it is not dormant.

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