Credit: Annie's Annuals & Perennials

Red foliage cannas

I was always under the impression that  early canna cultivars had green foliage, and much later crosses introduced the dark foliage; a feature that so many love in Cannas. However, my reading has revealed that cannas with red foliage have been in evidence since the early 1800’s. Rubra is the Latin word for red, and we have several interesting  cannas in our collection that carry that name.

Canna rubra (Willd.)

Red flowers indoors in December, originating from the West Indies and first introduced to England in 1820.Johnson’s Dictionary of 1856

Canna indica var. warszewiczii Credit: Annie's Annuals & Perennials

Modern taxonomists have  treated  Canna rubra as being a synonym for C. indica, and at least one authority feels that it was probably a duplication of Canna indica var.indica Warscewiczii.

That same species was used by Monsieur Crozy in his development of the floriferous Crozy Group of cannas.

The earlier reference to flowering in December was due to the fact that in those days, in England, Cannas were grown indoors in glass  buildings, with heat provided by coal heated stoves, hence the name given to Cannas, and other expensive tender imports, at that time of stove plants. Cannas were considered to be too tender to grow outdoors at all, and only people with wealth could consider growing them.

Rather than using glass houses,  Monsieur  Théodore Année and the other French hybridizers quickly adapted the technique of lifting and storing rhizomes in the winter months and growing out again next spring, once the threat of frost had receded. The rhizomes descended  from C. indica and C. glauca proved to be amenable to that process, and so we remain today. That technique is now used by most Canna growers resident in temperate zones.

As we all know, C. ‘Annei’ was the first canna cultivar, but Monsieur Année went on to produce many more cultivars, amongst them were some with dark foliage.

Canna ‘Rubra Perfecta’

We have early records of three Foliage Group cultivars raised in the mid 1800’s, the first was Canna ‘Rubra Perfecta’, (perfect red) raised by Théodore AnnéePassy, France in 1861. 

Canna Rubra Perfecta has stems dark-red, from 5 ft. to 6½ ft. high. Leaves dark-red, rayed with purple. The flowers are of medium size, orange-red. Rootstocks are dark-red, and conical. It seeds freely.Subtropical Gardening, Robinson 1868

Canna ‘Rubra Superbissima

CannaRubra Superbissima

In his book Le Canna, son histoire, sa culture of 1867, the first book devoted to the canna genus, Monsieur E. Chaté tells us that CannaRubra Superbissima‘ (translated as ‘superb red’) was yet another new cultivar from Monsieur Année, also introduced in 1861.

The cultivar was extremely popular at the time, and was described by several authorities as:

Canna Rubra Superbissima has stems dark purple-red, very thick, from nearly 6 ft. to 6½ ft. high. It’s leaves are broad, round, purplish-red, with a metallic lustre. Flowers of medium size, light orange-red. The rootstocks are brownish, very thick, conical, and crowded together. One of the finest metallic-red-leaved Cannas.Subtropical Gardening, Robinson 1868

Canna Rubra Superbissima is 5 to 6 feet in height; leaves very broad, of a rich purplish red colour, with a metallic lustre in the sun. This is a free grower, and one of the best of the red-leaved kinds..Thompson’s Gardener’s Assistant, edited by Thomas Moore, 1892

At that time in canna history the floriferous cultivars from Monsieur Crozy were the fashionable rage, so the mention of this foliage cultivar is all the more remarkable ,as Moore obviously felt that this was an outstanding specimen.

Canna ‘Rubra Nerva

Finally, Canna ‘Rubra Nerva, (red ribbed) was raised by E. Chaté and sons, sentier Saint-Antoine, Saint-Mandé, Paris, France, EU. in 1862.

Canna Rubra Nerva has stems dark-red, from 3½ ft. to 5 ft. high. Leaves long and narrow, lance-shaped, reflexed, dark-red rayed with purple. It had large flowers, of a cinnabar red. The rootstocks are dark-red, very long, conical, and cylindrical. Resembles a weeping willow.Thompson’s Gardener’s Assistant, edited by Thomas Moore, 1892

CannaRubra Nerva

As an aside, we are growing C. ‘Russian Red’ next to C. ‘Rubra Superbissima’ for comparison this year, as there seems to be no difference between them. Wer will also ne making a comparison of strong and healthy rhizomes, as these become more relevant with the Foliage Group cannas. We also intend to supply a specimen of the latter to the National Canna Collection at Hart Canna, so that Keith and Christine Hayward can make a judgement as well.


  1. Le Canna – E. Chaté et fils, 1867
  2. Subtropical Gardening – Robinson 1868
  3. Thompson’s Gardener’s Assistant, Edited by Thomas Moore, 1892