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New Canna Variety Renews Interest
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Tropicanna just may be the most beautiful canna ever developed and is renewing interest in this traditional Southern plant with its brightly colored, variegated leaves and orange flowers.
While I am not much of a fan of orange flowers, the foliage of this new variety is awesome enough to make you want to grow the plant. Most Southern natives grew up with cannas.
With the big surge in popularity of perennials, this is one plant that should see a new revival as well, because it is one of the easiest we can grow. It returns reliably year after year. There are not too many plants native to the Central and South American tropics that make themselves at home in Mississippi with the ease of the canna.
1997 has been a spectacular year for cannas. Recurrent rains and moderate temperatures have probably simulated their native habitat.
Cannas vary in their height from just 2 feet to giant-sized with various flower colors and blends. We even have a choice in leaf colors from those that are green, variegated and bronze.
Once there was believed to be 60 species of canna, but the latest reference says there are really only nine. There has been so much hybridization of cannas that our varieties today almost do not resemble the original botanical species.
If you have a desire to add to the confusion, you can plant your mature seeds as well. Soak seeds for 24 hours in warm water or lightly file the seed coat prior to planting. The seeds of some are so hard, it is said the natives in the West Indies used them as shot, hence the common name Indian Shot. Cannas need nearly full sun for best flowering. Plant them in a highly organic, raised bed with several inches of compost or humus incorporated for increased drainage and aeration.
Plant canna rhizomes in the spring 12 to 16 inches apart in their beds or buy container-grown plants in the summer. Mulch cannas two to three inches deep with fine bark to retard weed growth and conserve available moisture.
Use taller plants in the background, and short cannas in the middle or border. They are great around water features such as pools. For best landscape effects, mass plant beds of single colors or plant drifts of single colors adjacent another single color canna drift. They are also suited for the back of the perennial border or in large tubs.
Canna leaf rollers are the most serious pest. They will cement the unfurling leaves together then chew completely through them. Systemic insecticides can prevent them, or when they have become unsightly, cut the stalk and destroy it.
To keep a tidy appearance, remove spent flowers and seed pods. This will also encourage repeat flowering. In the fall after the first frost, cut back stems to the ground. Divide clumps every three or four years to increase performance and prevent overcrowding. It is quite easy to multiply your stand for additional plantings.
Every year at my church, Miss Ival has some of the prettiest arrangements using cannas, yet I can't really find it mentioned as a cut flower.