Cannas are one of my personal favorite plants groups. They are striking in the garden with beautiful flowers in a wide range of colors and bold foliage. Over the years cannas come in and out of popularity and availability.  In the 1700’s and 1800’s only the well off Europeans were growing cannas in their gardens. The canna was seen as a strange new plant form the new world and they started taking the Victorian gardens by storm. As the cannas popularity grew so did the breeding, hybrids began to improve on the flower size and over all shape and size of the plant. By the early 1900’s some of the more well known cannas were being developed by breeders around the world.

Cannas are not actually lilies, they are in the plant order of Zigiberales and in the family Cannaceae. This family  is related to gingers, bananas and calatheas. There are around 20 known species in the canna family, some sub-species and clones. At one point in time the number of species  was 100  but this was later reduced to the 20 known species listed below. Many of these species are still very hard to find in cultivation and I have been trying to track many down for years with little luck.

Canna Species 

    Canna amabilis
    Canna bangii
    Canna coccinea
    Canna compacta
    Canna discolor var. discolor
    Canna discolor var. rubripunctata
    Canna discolor var. viridifolia
    Canna flaccida
    Canna glauca
    Canna glauca var. siamensis
    Canna indica
    Canna indica var. flava
    Canna indica var. maculata

    Canna indica var. sanctae-rosae
    Canna indica var. warszewiczii
    Canna iridiflora
    Canna jacobiniflora
    Canna jaegeriana
    Canna liliiflora
    Canna paniculata
    Canna patens
    Canna pedunculata
    Canna plurituberosa
    Canna speciosa
    Canna stenantha
    Canna tuerckheimii

 Canna specie flowers and hybrid flowers are very similar but in most species the petals/staminodes are much smaller.  The canna flowers all seem to have very similar structure and that is why I used photos of Canna patens as the display flower for ID-ing flowers parts below. The different structures are easier to see in a species canna with a simple flower verses a hybrid flowers.

Flower size

I generally put flowers into several categories when judging them. The size is one of the first notable things to canna flowers. They are generally referred to as small, medium, large and X-large. Most species flowers are considered small with the exceptions of flaccida and iridiflora. Usually the taller the canna grows the smaller the flower will be. The smaller flower helps to ensure that the taller cannas do not fall over.

This Canna tama-tulipa has a very small species flower.

The medium size flowers are the most common in breeding. These are usually 3 to 4 inches across. Although the larger flowers are most sought after the medium size flowers often bloom more frequently.

I refer to this size as medium flowers.

Canna Bengal Tiger 

Large flowers like  Canna Bengal Tiger, above, are 5 to 7 inches across. These are often tetraploids and most are infertile. 

Brian’s Botanicals unnamed canna hybrid

One of my older hybrids produced what I would call X-large flowers. These are flowers that can measure over 7 inches wide. I know only a few cannas that produces such larger flowers. Canna colossal was once available that produced a 9 inch red flowers.

Canna Flower Colors

The sections of the flowers can be fascinating but the color spectrum is large and with many variations. The colors are white (very pale yellow), yellow, orange, red, and pink. A few other colors such as purple, maroon and green have been reported and even proven. These colors are still very rare and none available on the market as of yet.

All forms of yellow can be found in the Canna family. I find that identifying exact colors can he difficult when they blend from one color range to another.

Canna Lemon Punch

Some cannas are considered white while in reality they are a pale yellow. Below I have a pic of Canna Ermine one of the more well known white cannas as well as a group photo of some hybrids I have breed with white/off white flowers for comparison.

Canna Ermine

2008 White canna hybrids Brian Williams

The color orange is fairly common in cannas with every hue of the color represented. Below are a few of the more common orange flowering cannas on the market.

Canna Wyoming

Canna Orange Punch
Brian’s Botanicals unnamed canna hybrid

Pink cannas are another great color not often seen in gardens and pink cannas can be very showy. Much like the other colors the pink spectrum could run from one end to the other from light pinks to dark almost red coloring. Here are some examples:

Canna china doll was once fairly common now almost impossible to find. 
Canna Blueberry Sparkler 

Red flowers add a great pop of color in the garden in the gardens and cannas have some of the best red flowers there are! Although red is common in cannas they are hard to fine on the market

Canna President
Canna Australia

Bicolor Canna Flowers

Cannas with bicolor flowers have two different colors in the same flower and some may have slight spotting or pink to red.

Canna Lucifer

Canna florence vaughn
Canna Maui Punch PPAF
Canna Journeys end
Canna Ada

Bicolor Canna Flower: Halo Trait

Another canna flower trait which is seen in the bicolor flowers but has also become more refined is the Halo a flower with a different colored edge around all the petals/staminoides. In most cases is in a like pink with a red rim or similar looking like a outline around the flower. I have only seen it in a very few hybrids.

Canna Amazon Butterfly

Brian’s Botanicals unnamed canna hybrid

Bicolor Canna Flower: Cross trait

Another rare bicolor type flower is often referred to as the cross pattern. This is a flower with a large cross or X like pattern in the center of the flower.

Canna stripped beauty
Brian’s Botanicals unnamed canna hybrid

Bicolor Canna Flower: The Blotch Trait

The blotched trait is flowers that are bicolor but the color is erratic in the flower. It often looks like paint streaks on the petals of the flower. This is a rare trait in most breeding but the effect can be dramatic. I would also like to note that the mosaic virus can cause a similar effect in flowers but it is a unwanted effect since the virus has ill effects on the growth and over all look of the flowers and foliage.

Older hybrid by Johnny Johnson

Brian’s Botanicals unnamed canna hybrid
Streaking effects done by virus infection

Even though canna breeding has slowed lately, there is still a ton of potential the canna breeding could tap into!