A little Tropicana in the garden – we try out a few Cannas


Cannas were all the rage in bedding schemes of the Victorian age. The public authorities thought of them as ideal as dot plants, adding height and an exotic feel to planting which were rarely subtle and frequently brash. These schemes were often dismissed as vulgar by Gertrude Jekyll and many other horticultural experts of the day, who bemoaned the demise of the simple garden flowers that in many cases disappeared as a result, but there is no doubting their popularity at the time.

Enthusiasm for Cannas returned with the advent of patio gardening and compact forms were bred to create plants more suitable for smaller properties and for container growing. Recently however, our Cannas have been threatened by viruses which can affect the beauty of the plants and may eventually lead to death.  The three viruses involved are Bean yellow mosaic virus (BYMV) and Canna yellow streak virus (CaYSV) which are not passed from parents to seeds, and Canna yellow mottle virus (CaYMV), which is. Symptoms include streaking or mottling of leaves and flowers, stunted and distorted growth, and worst.

This has led some breeders and growers to attempt to produce virus free varieties, either by cleaning up existing cultivars using meristem tissue culture, or creating new ones from seed. Global plant health is not helped however, by growers who continue to sell infected plants and by gardeners who have diseased plants in their gardens. Several growers have reduced their ranges to a fraction of those they previously offered, determined to provide only virus free material to their clients. Others are less scrupulous.

We obtained a range of Cannas from our local garden centre, all with the label of a particular Dutch grower who I contacted by email. He was happy to discuss the theory of Canna viruses but less clear as to whether my purchases were virus free. The varieties selected were:

  • Australia or ‘Feuerzauber’ – deep burgundy-black foliage with a satin-like sheen and the intense colour which holds superbly during the summer heat. The foliage rises to 4-5′, topped with a magnificent display of large, shocking red flowers
  • Durban – outrageously colourful plant to 4-7 feet tall. The new foliage emerges with dark red stripes highlighted with pink, bronze, and pale yellow striping and ages to a bronze-green with yellow stripes. The large orange-red flowers are an added bonus. In England and Europe this plant is sometimes called ‘Red Durban’ to distinguish it from another plant that they call Durban, which the United States goes by the name ‘Phasion’ and is a patented variety. Canna ‘Phasion’ is a dark stripped leaf canna with dark maroon foliage and yellow to pink stripes. The flowers are large and orange……… Heaven only knows which one we have.
  • Kreta – could this also be C. (island series) Crete? red with green leaves.
  • Pretoria – bright green and yellow variegated foliage and deep tangerine flowers.
  • Striped Beauty – silvery white and green pinstriped leaves; red bud opens into a clear yellow flower with a small white stripe on each petal; one of the oldest, most reliable of the variegated cannas.

I am delighted to give these a try around the new swimming pool and will be reporting back on progress as the year warms up.

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4 thoughts on “A little Tropicana in the garden – we try out a few Cannas

  1. I love my ‘Tropicanna’ cannas. They’ve proved themselves quite hardy here in our sometimes zone 6, sometimes zone 7/8 garden. I just need to find a spot for them this year (right now they’re hidden behind some roses and none too happy about it 🙂

  2. American garden writer Henry Mitchell lamented in “The Essential Earthman” that cannas were swept out of favor, along with geraniums, elephant’s ear, and crotons, “because people remembered well how ridiculous they had looked in the wormy little dribbles of Victorian gardens.”

    Here in Rwanda, they give us good foliage and bloom color almost all year long (they don’t care for the last, worst days of the dry season).

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