In Western culture, lilies are symbols of purity, beauty, fertility, love, innocence, and rebirth. So it’s no surprise that lots of different flowers have borrowed the name – including a few that can be tricky to tell apart. Are Peace Lilies, Easter Lilies, and Calla Lilies the same kind of flower? They look similar in a lot of ways – but are they identical?
No. Although they all feature beautiful white flowers, these plants belong to separate species. The Easter Lily is the only one that’s a “true lily”, a member of the Lilium genus. Peace Lilies and Calla Lilies are more closely related and have many anatomical similarities, but they’re still different.
All three of these plants have similar care needs when you’re growing them indoors. However, Easter Lilies are much better-equipped for the cold, meaning you can grow them outdoors in climates that would kill Peace Lilies or Calla Lilies. Easter Lilies are also very toxic to cats, so pet owners should treat them with caution. See below for more about the similarities and differences between these lovely plants.
What is a Peace Lily?
In aroids, what you’d normally think of as the flower is actually a structure called an inflorescence. There’s a large leaf known as the spathe, which sits below or behind a rounded spike called the spadix. The spadix holds dozens if not hundreds of tiny flowers along its length.
On a Peace Lily, the spathe is large and bright white. It grows like the hood of a cobra behind the bumpy spadix, which is usually green or yellow. There are close to 50 different species of Peace Lily, and together they make up the Spathiphyllum genus.
Peace Lilies vs. Calla Lilies
Calla Lilies are aroids too. However, they come from a different genus with the dramatic but hard-to-pronounce name Zantedeschieae.
It’s easy to understand why you might think Peace Lilies and Calla Lilies are different varieties of the same plant. They both form flowers with a vertical spadix cupped inside a large spathe. Some Calla Lilies even bloom in the same bright white color as a Peace Lily. And both varieties push leaves and blossoms up as individual stalks from underground stems called rhizomes.
But there are a few easy ways to tell them apart:
- The spathe of a Calla Lily wraps much more tightly around the flower-bearing spadix. It opens only at the top, creating a shape that’s closer to a vase than a hood.
- A Peace Lily’s foliage grows in elliptical shapes with deep ruffles at the veins. Calla Lilies have arrowhead-shaped leaves that often feature sprays of white dots.
- Mature Peace Lilies can get up to 6 feet tall, and can spread almost as wide. Calla Lilies are a little more compact. They usually don’t grow higher than 3 feet.
- The spathe of a Peace Lily is always white, though it may take on a greenish tint as it gets older. Calla Lilies, on the other hand, can also be red, orange, yellow, pink, or purple. If you see any of these colors, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re NOT looking at a Peace Lily.
Calla Lilies and Peace Lilies thrive with the same basic care regimen. Like most aroids, they do best if you plant them in soil with good drainage and keep it damp but not wet. They prefer indirect light, as direct sunbeams can burn their leaves. Their ideal temperature range is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and they only need occasional fertilizer.
Peace Lilies vs. Easter Lilies
A Peace Lily and a Calla Lily sit fairly close to each other on the plant family tree. Lilium longiflorum, the Easter Lily, is much further away. The first two are more closely related to pondweed and seagrass than they are to Easter Lilies!
Instead of inflorescences, Easter Lilies produce large flowers with multiple petals. These blooms have a narrow base that flares out like a trumpet at the open end. The flowers are white, sometimes with rosy pink shading on the inside, and the anthers inside bear bright yellow pollen.
While the leaves of a Peace Lily sprout up from the roots on long stalks, those of an Easter Lily grow out from a central stem. They’re small and narrow compared to the foliage of a Spathiphyllum, shaped like blades of grass. They grow on all sides around the stalk, giving it an almost shaggy appearance.
To keep an Easter Lily as a potted plant, you’d give it the same kind of care as you would a Calla Lily or a Peace Lily. But keep it away from your cats! Easter Lilies are extremely toxic to felines, causing serious damage to their livers.
To be clear, Peace Lilies, Easter Lilies, and Calla Lilies are all somewhat poisonous if eaten, but the symptoms are usually mild in humans. Effects can include irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
You can plant Easter Lilies in an outdoor garden, even if your area gets too cold for tropical plants like Peace Lilies. The flowers and stems will die back in the fall, but the bulb in the soil can last through the winter if you lay a decent coat of mulch over it. As the weather warms up again, it will send up new shoots and flowers.
What Exactly Is A Lily?
The flowers we now consider “true lilies” have been symbols of beauty, purity, and fertility at least as far back as Ancient Greece. One myth said that they sprang up from the spilled breast milk of Hera, the goddess of womanhood and marriage. In medieval Europe, lilies came to signify a different mother figure – the Virgin Mary.
Easter Lilies were considered especially connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is how they got their name. You can walk into almost any Christian church during the Easter season and see these graceful flowers all around the altar, representing the joy of Christ’s return from the grave.
When botanists began to create a naming system for plants based on evolutionary links, they found that many flowers we know as “lilies” really are closely related. Scientists call this group the Lilium genus. The Easter Lily falls into this category, along with the Madonna Lily, the Tiger Lily, and the Stargazer Lily (among many others).
Lilies grow from fleshy bulbs below the ground that let them store energy through the winter. They tend to form tall stalks and produce big, showy, sweet-smelling flowers. These blossoms feature six curving petals in a variety of bright colors, often with interesting speckled patterns.
Everyday language is a lot less precise than botany. Lilies have become so linked with the idea of floral beauty that people started using the name for all kinds of other pretty plants. Sometimes this is because their curling flowers really do look a bit like classic lilies. In other cases, the term is more of a poetic tribute to a plant’s beauty.
The Peace Lily and the Calla Lily are just two examples of these pseudo-lilies. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples. Here are a few more:
- Water Lily – refers to the Nymphaeceae family of aquatic plants. They’re often viewed as symbols of purity, like true lilies, because they raise up beautiful flowers in the midst of mud and algae.
- Lily-of-the-Valley – Convallaria majalis, a forest-dwelling plant that grows tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers. Like the Madonna Lily, many associate it with the Virgin Mary, with other common names including “Mary’s Tears” and “Our Lady’s Tears”.
- Daylily – a pretty yellow flower whose blooms only last about one day each. Botanists place it in the genus Hemerocallis.
- Sword Lily – an old-fashioned name for the genus Gladiolus, which gets its name from the Latin word for “sword”. The term refers to the bladelike shapes of its leaves.
- Voodoo Lily – a genus of bizarre tropical plants called Amorphophallus. This group includes several species of gigantic flowers that give off the smell of rotting meat to attract carrion beetles for pollination.
Peace Lilies and Calla Lilies may look similar, but they’re different plants with different habits. And Easter Lilies are in a whole other category. Still, all three can flourish in your home under similar conditions – as long as you don’t have cats that like to chew plants! There’s a lot to love about each one of these floral beauties.