Record breaking: Giant Amazon water lily

The leaves of the giant Amazon water lily grow over 2.5m (8’) across. The flowers are 30cm (12’’) wide and the leaf stalks grow with rising flood waters to exceed 6m (20’) long. This extraordinary relative of the garden-favourite lily was discovered in 1801 in a slow moving tributary of the Amazon River.

In 2002, the giant Amazon water lily growing at The Living Rainforest set a world record with a leaf 2.65m (8’ 6½’’) across. Our lily is a hybrid between the two South American species; Victoria amazonica and V. cruziana. It was first raised in 1960 by Patrick Nutt at Longwood Gardens in America.

Adapted to river life

E041 - Victoria amazonica spines on leaf undersideDefensive spines: The lily is well defended from fish and other animals by sharp spines on the flower buds, leaf stalks, and underside of leaves. In contrast, the leaf surface feels smooth to touch and slightly rubbery.

E042 -E041 - Victoria amazonica leaf undersideStaying afloat: The lily pads have tremendous buoyancy from a web-like structure of veins – all filled with air. The leaf pads can even support the weight of a well balanced adult. The leaves drain excess surface water with notches at the edge of each leaf.

giant-lilyCapturing light: Along with some other tropical plants, the giant lily leaves are red underneath. This lets the lily capture different wavelengths of light, particularly in lower light levels. Our Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’ is especially red underneath compared with the two water lily species.

Night-time pollination

First evening: The pure-white flowers open during the evening with a pineapple-like fragrance. A chemical reaction inside the flower heats the bloom to as much as 12°C (20°F) above the ambient temperature, helping to disperse the perfume and attract the scarab beetle pollinator (Cylocephata castaneal). This flower is initially female and receptive to pollen carried by a beetle from another flower.

E043 - Victoria amazonica pink flowerSecond evening: As daylight approaches the flower shuts, trapping the beetle. During the day, the flower becomes male and produces pollen that coats the beetle as it tries to escape. The flower reopens the following evening as a dark pink. This colour is unattractive the pollen-coated beetle which travels to another white flower.

A blooming history

The first giant water lily to flower in the UK was grown by horticulturalist Sir Joseph Paxton, head of the Duke of Devonshire’s gardens at Chatsworth House.

Paxton had received the plant from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1849 and grown it a specially built greenhouse. Inspired by the structure of the leaf, he later incorporated the lily into designs for his Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

Annual spectacle

We plant a young water lily every year in May. The leaves grow several inches a day and reach the edge of our pool by August, when the lily also flowers.

By November, the light levels have dropped too low to sustain the lily over winter and the dying plant is removed. But in the native Amazon, the plant would continue growing year-round where its growth rate is determined by water levels rather than light or warmth.

20 comments on 'Record breaking: Giant Amazon water lily'

  1. amanda says:

    is it true that a giant water lily can grow to four metres across?

  2. Karl Hansen says:

    It’s true that the Giant Water Lily is a giant but the widest leaf ever recorded was 2.65 m across … We know because it happened at the Living Rainforest!

  3. Caroline says:

    Those flowers are such gorgeous things… I love`em!

  4. Babette says:

    They’re beautiful plants. Lily is my favorite name and they are beautiful plants.
    This website was a great help to my georgeraphy gomework, thank you!

  5. Victor Shaw says:

    A pad of approximatly 6 ft. diameter. What would the wall depth be at its perimeter? and if weight were distributed evenly what
    could it carry? Also what would be the thickness of the leaf?

  6. ALY says:

    i have 2 make a power point this is AWESOME

  7. Cher says:

    Yeah, that they are. Very lovely indeed.

  8. lucy says:

    the baby has the same name as me! i like the website!

  9. Felicite says:

    My dad is reading this to me – but how does this plant know that the Beetle likes white and dislikes pink.

    Felicite aged 5.

  10. malcolm prior says:

    in answer to victor shaw, 23rd Oct a 6ft dia. lily pad would support a weight of 147 lb., evenly distributed, for every 1″ of wall height so with a wall height of 4″ it would support a quarter of a ton!

  11. dan says:

    how much growth willl you get in one season (how big will it get?). I have a small pond, i wanted to grow it each season like you do.

  12. an interested student says:

    This really helped me with me science project, ta

  13. Karl Hansen says:

    In the UK each plant lasts only one season so we replant each year. Growth depends on environmental conditions including water temperature, light levels, nutrients and growing space so the answer is, ‘it depends’!

  14. Anjana says:

    beautiful

  15. :) says:

    This is a great flower but what I don’t understand is how it is spiky and yet its waxy and rubbery!! Can someone please explain? :)

  16. Sandipan says:

    Its Amazing.. absolutely amazing. The first one I came across was at the botanical garden in Kolkata.

  17. Terry Johnson says:

    Hi your information is very interesting, may I please ask for some information on the statement under “Night-time pollination” where it states that: ‘A chemical reaction inside the flower heats the bloom to as much as 12degs C above the ambient temperature’. How does this happen and is the chemical reaction known? This is fascinating.
    Regards Terry

  18. […] This particular hybrid plant is a mix of Victoria amazonica (Amazon river) and Victoria cruziana (Paraguay and Argentina). Read more about the plant through The Living Rainforest. […]

  19. Susan Barton says:

    I went to look at the Giant Amazon Water Lily at Ventnor Botanic Gardens today and was lucky enough to see it with it’s white flower. Light levels were low because of the rain and so maybe it was tricked into flowering during the day. Fingers crossed I’ll see a dark pink flower tomorrow……

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At a glance

Distribution and Habitat

Our hybrid plant is of garden origin (raised in cultivation). Victoria amazonica is native to the Amazon River; V. cruziana is native of cooler waterways of Argentina and Paraguay.

Size

Leaves up to 2m (6’) across

Use

Public education of rainforest plants

Scientific name

Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’

First evening

The pure-white flowers open during the evening with a pineapple-like fragrance

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