LEWISTON — It started with 25 broad-leafed plants, not typically found in Maine’s harsh climate.

“I probably get 10 to 20 calls every year, people asking about them, these oriental, tropical-looking plants we have,” Steve Murch, Lewiston’s city arborist, said. “They can be 5 or 6 feet tall or taller, with thick, palm-looking leaves.”

At this very moment, they are nothing more than 1,000 canna lily bulbs tucked away for the winter in Lewiston’s public works shops. Next summer, Murch and his crew will plant them around the city.

And next fall, they’ll dig them all up and store them away for another winter, a stockpile for summers to come, packed in sawdust and wood chips and sealed in a plastic bin.

“I got some pretty big plans for them next spring,” he said. “I’m going to use more of them this year, with different designs than we have before.”

Murch said he planted cannas in his home garden and there was an exotic feel they brought to his Maine garden.

“Back when the city had a little bit of a budget for planting flowers, we used some of these,” Murch said. “They multiplied so well; 25 became 50. We used more next year and the 50 became 250 and now, four or five years later, we have more than 1,000.”

Cannas are not technically lilies but are a species of flowering plants with bright flowers and broad textured leaves. They are native to warmer climes, tropical areas and the southern United States.

Late each summer, the flowering plants reduce to tubers, like a potato. They can survive temperatures as low as 40 degrees but can be quite hardy if they are kept warm.

“We had some mass losses, when the ground froze late fall before we got to them,” he said. “But they’ve done really well.”

It means that Murch and his crew must find the tubers and dig them up for storage. This year, he was helped by agriculture students at Edward Little High School.

“We went into areas where we had a lot of them planted and the kids came and we dug them all up,” he said. “Instead of having three guys go all over town, they came out and dug them up and took care of a job that would have taken us a long time.”

Murch said the canna tubers are brought back out in the spring. They’ll start to sprout eyes, like an old potato, and will be planted in a hot house to sprout.

“We start them in April, and by late May they are a foot tall,” he said. “But you can just dump them right into the ground mid-May and they’ll grow.”

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