Category Archives: Groups

Agriculture Group

The Agriculture Group contains all of the varieties of Canna used in agriculture. CannaAchira’ and Canna ‘Edulis ‘(Latin: eatable) are generic terms used in South America to describe the cannas that have been selectively bred for agricultural purposes, normally derived from Canna discolor.  It is grown especially for its edible rootstock from which starch is obtained, but the leaves and young seed are also edible, and Achira was once a staple food crop in Peru and Ecuador.

Farming varieties

There are some named agricultural varieties, and published comparative studies have involved:

C. ‘Achira Dark
C. ‘Achira Green
C. ‘Brick Canna
C. ‘Chinese Purple’
C. ‘Edulis Dark’
C. ‘Edulis Green
C. ‘Japanese Green’
C. ‘Korean Green Stem’
C. ‘Korean Red Stem’
C. ‘Korean yellow flower’
C. ‘Queensland Arrowroot
C. ‘Thai-purple’
C. ‘Thai-green’
C. ‘Tous les Mois’
Canna (Agriculture Group) ‘Edulis Dark’

Many more traditional varieties exist worldwide, they have all involved human selection and so are classified as agricultural cultivars. Folk lore states that Canna edulis Ker-Gawl. is the variety grown for food in South America, but there is no scientific evidence to substantiate the name as a separate species. It is probable that this is simply a synonym of C. discolor, which is grown for agricultural purposes throughout South America and Asia.

In the Andes, the rhizome can be harvested within 6 months from planting out and the yields range from 13 – 85 tonnes per hectare, with 22 – 50 tonnes being average, though larger yields are obtained after 8 – 10 months. In Queensland, Australia they are able to obtain a yield of 5-10 tons of C. ‘Queensland Arrowroot’ tubers per acre.

Most cultivated forms do not produce fertile seed. There are also sterile triploid forms, these contain a significantly higher proportion of starch, though their cropping potential is not known.

Animal fodder

The rhizomes and leaves are good fodder for cattle and pigs and it is grown for this purpose in Tropical Africa and Hawaii, where it is harvested 4–8 months after planting. The foliage of Agricultural Canna is also used for its silage making properties, which are superior to those of corn.

Human consumption

Canna is still grown for human consumption in the Andes and also in Vietnam and southern China, where the starch is used to make cellophane noodles.

Edible qualities

Rootstock – actually a rhizome, this can be eaten either raw or cooked. It is the source of canna starch which is used as a substitute for arrowroot. The starch is obtained by rasping the rhizome to a pulp, then washing and straining to get rid of the fibres. This starch is very digestible.

The starch is in very large grains, about three times the size of potato starch grains, and can be seen with the naked eye. This starch is easily separated from the fibre of the rhizome.

The very young rhizomes can also be eaten cooked, they are sweet but fibrous. The rhizome can be very large, sometimes as long as a person’s forearm. In Peru the rhizomes are baked for up to 12 hours by which time they become a white, translucent, fibrous and somewhat mucilaginous mass with a sweetish taste.

Young shoots – these can be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable and are quite nutritious, containing at least 10% protein.

See also: Canna Cultivar Groups

Aquatic Group

The Aquatic Group contains cultivars that thrive as marginal water plants. Characteristically, they will have lance-shaped foliage and long, thin rhizomes, which help provide anchorage in a moving environment. Having been derived from Canna glauca or Canna flaccida, they will have inherited their lance-shaped foliage and long, thin rhizomes.

A side-effect of the long, thin rhizomes is that they are not able to store large amounts of starch, and cannot tolerate the horticultural ‘trick’ of stopping rhizome growth over the winter months, so that rhizomes can be stored away from the destructive cold and frost. Instead, Aquatic Group cultivars must be kept growing over the cold winter months, although they will tolerate a low-level of watering during that period.


The first cultivars bred specifically for their aquatic abilities were introduced by Dr Richard Armstrong, firstly in his role as geneticist at Longwood Gardens and later in a private capacity when he retired to Hawaii.



Canna ‘Severn’

The Longwood aquatic cannas were bred for large ponds and lakes, but look out of scale with normal garden small ponds, and so the River Series of aquatic cannas was bred specifically to fill that gap, all being under 1 metre in height.


See also: Canna Cultivar Groups

Chimera Group

The Chimera Group is where all the cultivars that result from a chimeral mutation are grouped.

This is useful, as it stops the agonising over whether CannaCleopatra’ is just a synonym of CannaYellow King Humbert’, and what about canna ‘ TyTy Red’, is it just another marketing name for ‘America’? They can now all be itemised in this group.

This grouping means that they can all be grouped together equally, until documentary or laboratory evidence provides us with facts to the contrary.

The hardest part with the Chimera Group is establishing synonyms, typically we have a situation where, for example, we know that Yellow King Humbert was first documented about 1918 and that Cleopatra appeared (identical in looks) in the 1980′s, but can we prove they are the same plants, or was Cleopatra the result of a later mutation that took place in China? With no way of proving these relationships, and so this is a much better immediate solution.

Technical description
A chimera or chimaera is a single organism that is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes involved in sexual reproduction. If the different cells have emerged from the same zygote, the organism is called a mosaic. Chimeras are formed from at least four parent cells (two fertilized eggs or early embryos fused together). Each population of cells keeps its own character and the resulting organism is a mixture of tissues.

Italian Group

The Italian Group is a cultivar group with large, fragile staminodes. Flowers are arranged somewhat loosely, with wide petals (staminodes) so wide that there is no space between them when arranged formally. The labellum (lip) is larger, or at least as large, as the staminodes, unlike the other groups where it is smaller and sometimes curled. The stamen and style is also much wider than that in the other cultivar groups.


In 1895 when Carl Sprenger of Dammon & Co., in Naples, Italy, distributed his radically different “orchid flowered” cannas with Canna flaccida in their ancestry, they startled the gardening world. Never before had such huge Canna blooms been seen. They were bred for use in glassed conservatories and never claimed to be excellent open bedding plants.


The modification of the stamen and style into what resembled extra staminodes (those showy parts of a Canna flower that look like petals), created the illusion of a semi-double flower. In fact the old nurserymen describe them in their catalogues as outer petals being a certain colour and the inner petals (the modified organs) being of another colour or pattern of colouration. The gardening world likened them to large orchids – hence the early epithet. [Ed. this cyclopedia describes the stamen and style separately when their colour or markings are different from the staminodes.]


Also, used to be called the orchid flowering cannas, or C. × orchiodes L.H. Bailey garden species, although such artificial garden species are now deprecated in favour of Cultivar Groups. 

CannaWyoming’ introduces by Conard & Jones

The Italian cultivar  group obtained its larger sized flowers from the introduction of Canna flaccida to the mainstream cannas in the early 1890s by Dr Sprenger in Naples, followed over a year later by Luther Burbank in California, United States, with the same cultivar cross.

CannaMrs Kate Gray

Antoine Wintzer at Conard & Jones and Sydney Percy-Lancaster of Alipore Cannas also produced significant Italian Group cultivars, but no other significant hybridisation of the Italian Group has been  recorded since.  It must be stated that the hybridisation involved is not simple, and in any case the existing cultivars have exhausted the flower and foliage colours and types available with this material.

Musafolia Group

The Musafolia Group, having large leaves and being either tall or giant in size consists of cultivars whose leaves resemble those of banana plants (genus Musa). Until this group was designated, the cultivars were considered to be members of the Foliage Group.

The flowers of this group resemble those of the species and are not of the same size as modern cultivated varieties, but have a charm that appeals to minimalist enthusiasts.

The cultivars of this group are very late in flowering, if they flower at all. The editor has experimented extensively with this group and found that by keeping them growing, albeit slowly, over the winter months then they would flower in late September-October in the English Midlands.

See  also: Canna Cultivar Groups

Premier Group

This grouping contains cultivars that have a large, circular shape, without gaps between the staminodes when ordered. These are derived from the Crozy and Italian Groups, and are triploids, crosses with the Italian Group cultivars, or by selective breeding for the size of flower.

CannaZulu PrincessCourtesy of Marcelle Sheppard

Variegated Group

¦CannaKansas City

The Canna Variegated Group caters for cultivars with variegated foliage, regardless of what other Group they may belong to. The variegated group is not intended to include cultivars with colour zonation in their flowers,

There are many canna cultivars that have some green and purple variegation, and these are traditionally described as being ‘dark’, and this grouping is for those cultivars that have different colouring or are extreme examples of the green and purple canna trait. 


Variegation is the appearance of differently coloured zones in the leaves, and variegated leaves occur rarely in nature, and is a trait normally induced by cultivar mutation.

Other than the green and purple striata, almost all of the variegated cannas are members of the Italian Group, which is derived from the crossing of Canna flaccida with the established Crozy Group. The Italian Group also supplies CannaCleopatra’, which is significant as the only chimera in the canna family.  The exception to the Italian Group trait is CannaStuttgart’, which sometimes reverts to CannaAnnei’ from whence it originated.

CannaBengal Tiger

Variegated plants have long been valued by gardeners, as the usually lighter-coloured variegation can ‘lift’ what would otherwise be blocks of solid green foliage. Many gardening societies have specialist variegated plants groups, such as the Hardy Plant Society’s Variegated Plant Special Interest Group in the UK. Several gardening books which deal exclusively with variegated plants are available.


Because the variegation is due to the presence of two kinds of plant tissue, propagating the canna plant must be by a vegetative method of propagation that preserves both types of tissue in relation to each other. The only vegetative method that succeeds with cannas is the division of rhizomes, as other methods such as stem cuttings and bud and stem grafting will fail totally.

See also: Canna Cultivar Groups