28 Sep 2015

Canna o bandera española

por: Jorge Ventocilla

Canna or Spanish Flag

We are dust, we shall forever be dust

Neither air, nor fire, nor water



We shall only be earth

and perhaps

some yellow flowers

Pablo Neruda

Translated by J. V. Ricapito
Source: Latin American Literary Review, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Spring, 1975)  


After a long wait, and with the help of some rain, we just spotted a Canna flower in our backyard, just like the one we are showing you here. It was a small wonder which encouraged us to look for more information about this plant. 

The Cannaceae family is comprised of the Canna genre which includes approximately 50 herbaceous plants native to America.  This species was named by the renowned Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné), who mistakenly thought this plant was actually from India. 

The cultivated varieties have colorful large flowers and are widely used as ornamental plants. Wild varieties of this plant produce smaller red flowers only. It can be found anywhere along streets, sidewalks and parks in the city.

It is commonly known as “bandera española” (Spanish flag) in Panama, although on the countryside it could also be called “banderola” (banner). In some other countries in America it is known as “bandera”, “chancle” or “coyol”. They grow either from seeds or by planting rhizomes and thrive in sunny and humid locations; however, they also are able to adapt to different environmental conditions. The green and red colors on their leaves are also a characteristic of this beautiful plant.

Canna plants are now part of the landscape in distant places like Hawaii, for example. A Technical Report based on a research in Fiji explains that they are “…frequently found in populated areas, along roads, coconut plantations, clearings and brooks”. These plants are also found in Samoa, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tonga and Vanuatu.  In New Zealand, they are sometimes considered a plague.

In jewelry, the Canna indica seeds are widely used. These black seed are extremely resistant and perfectly round. In India, for example, these seeds are used as beads for necklaces.  The root is fibrous and edible when cooked. In the West Indies it is used for making flour.

Another valuable species is the Canna edulis or the Peruvian “achira”. This species grows up to a height of 3 m and has been planted in sheltered valleys in Mexico, the Caribbean, and even in Argentina.  Today it is also grown for its edible rhizomes in Hawaii, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia.  By the way, I have read that in Vietnam it is used for making high-quality, nutrient-rich noodles.

In Peru, the rhizomes are often roasted, cooked just like the sweet potato, and are sold in markets in different towns along the mountain range.  The flour obtained from the Canna plant is easy to digest, making it suitable for children, elders and people with digestive tract problems. The achira waik’o (Quechua) is the most traditional and used method for cooking it.  In some areas in Peru, Quechua people still use this root as a bartering item. In Cusco, Canna is a must during the Feast of Corpus Christi.  



Foto: Claines Canna.Giantsshoulders at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons