June 21, 2021

When I decided to plant strawberries in the back patio bed last year, I had the perspective that I first had to move a canna lily that Melissa’s mom had planted in the middle of the bed.  The bulb had come from Melissa’s grandmother and had been transplanted in our garden.  While it did flower last year, it struggled to get a hold in its new location.  While the canna grows from bulbs, I had transplanted both the bulb and the existing foliage.  I really did not know much about cultivation of the plant, but it somehow survived my fumbling and is thriving this year.  From Melissa’s perspective, it was worth my efforts.  This is described online as easy to grow.  I would agree.

The Red Canna Lily (Canna indica) is commonly known as Indian shot, African arrowroot, edible canna, purple arrowroot, and Sierra Leone arrowroot.  It is native to much of South America, Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico.  It is also naturalized in the southeastern United States, and much of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.  The name Canna originates from the Latin word for “cane or reed”.  The plants have large foliage, so horticulturists have developed selected forms as large-flowered garden plants.  Canna indica (achira in Latin America) has been a minor food crop cultivated by indigenous peoples of the Americas for thousands of years as a source of starch for human and animal consumption.  This was one of the plants brought to Arkansas by Melissa’s ancestors along the Trail of Tears and transplanted in Arkansas.  From this perspective, this was a part of their culture. 

The seeds of the Canna Lily are small, globular, black pellets, hard and dense enough to sink in water.  They resemble shotgun pellets, giving rise to the plant’s common name of Indian shot.  The seeds are hard enough to shoot through wood and still survive and later germinate.  According to the BBC “during the Indian Mutiny of the 19th century, soldiers used the seeds of a Canna indica when they ran out of bullets.”  The seeds are widely used for jewelry.  The seeds are also used as the mobile elements of the kayamb, a musical instrument from Réunion (island off coast of Madagascar), as well as the hosho, a gourd rattle from Zimbabwe (Africa), where the seeds are known as “hota” seeds.  What you use the Canna seeds and bulbs for depends on your perspective of what is significant.

Thoughts:  Like so many species, the Canna Lily is used in a variety of ways.  The roots are eaten as starch, the seeds are used as parts of musical instruments, and can even be used as ammo.  That means depending on your perspective, the plant covers the major aspects of life: food, entertainment, and protection.  The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a major, but unsuccessful, uprising in India in 1857–58 against the rule of the British East India Company that spread through the upper Ganges and central India.  The mutiny is also known as the First War of Independence.  It depends on your perspective.  We can see a similar perspective in our understanding of the unrest of the summer of 2020.  Some saw these as unfounded riots that needlessly destroyed property.  Others saw the protests as a wakeup call to action on systemic inequality.  While it depends on your perspective, it makes neither British nor American injustice acceptable.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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