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Getting to know canna lilies, heliotropes
Consumer Qs
red canna
An unknown red-flowered canna exhibits the narrow petals typical of many old cannas. Technically, they are not petals but modified stamens. - photo by Provided

Q: Someone gave me a tall canna lily with narrow petals. I am used to ones with large flowers. I was told it was an old variety and was one my great-grandmother grew. Do you think it could be?  

A: Quite possibly. Many early hybrids and wild species of canna are tall and have relatively small flowers. (Technically, what look like petals on a canna are actually modified stamens.) The trend over the years has been to breed for larger flowers on shorter plants. However, some modern varieties also have narrow flowers and many old varieties have fairly wide ones, and there are plenty of newer cannas that are tall. Check with plant catalogs, nurseries, reference books at the library as well as online to see if you can ascertain the identity of your mystery canna.

Cannas, also known as canna lilies, have a long history in gardens. Cannas were introduced to Europe by the late 1500s. Cannas were all the rage in late 1800s but later fell from favor. With such a long history of use, many varieties that are “new” or “modern” are more than 50 years old. And many cannas that are new to gardeners of today may have been planted in gardens more than a century ago.

Cannas are popular again because they are easy to grow and add a bold, tropical flair to any landscape. You will find varieties with striped leaves and in varying shades of purple. In these, the flowers may be considered of secondary importance. There are dwarf and tall cannas. The tall ones may be used as a summer screen. Because they like moisture, cannas are a good choice for areas that are perpetually wet or for pond gardens. Smaller varieties may be used in large pots. Because they are bold and colorful, you may find large beds of cannas planted along interstates. Cannas are flowers that can be appreciated leisurely up close or from a distance at 55+ miles per hour.

Bengal Tiger, also known as Pretoria, is a canna that is worth growing only for its colorful foliage.


Q: Someone gave me some lavender heliotrope he said was perennial. Can you tell me more about it?

A: It sounds like Heliotropium amplexicaule, an attractive, useful, drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow and durable perennial. Its common names include clasping heliotrope, trailing heliotrope and summer heliotrope. It is low-growing and produces flowers all summer. It likes full sun and is a good filler in a perennial garden.

Clasping heliotrope was once only available as a pass-along plant, one shared from one gardener to another, but is now being sold in nurseries and garden centers. The variety most frequently offered is called Azure Skies.

Clasping heliotrope is a favorite of buckeyes, skippers and small butterflies. Some people detect a slight grapefruit fragrance from the flowers on hot days, only if sniffed up close.


Q: If a can hisses when opened, is the food safe to eat?

A: Some vacuum-packed cans will make a hissing sound when opened as a result of air pressure being released, which is perfectly normal. However, if a can hisses loudly or the contents spurt forcefully from the can when opened, it may indicate that the food is unsafe. If this happens, place the can and its contents in a heavy-duty garbage bag and seal it. Then bag and seal it again, and put it in a trash container. Double-bagging will help prevent animals from getting into it.


If you have questions about agriculture, horticulture, food safety or services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30334 or visit the Georgia Agriculture Department's website ( 

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