Lovelier with Lilies

Few plant species elicit more astonishment than the giant water lilies of tropical South America. Named in honor of Queen Victoria, the Amazon water lily (Victoria amazonica) and the Santa Cruz water lily (Victoria cruziana) have captivated audiences since their first European introduction in 1846.

With mature leaves approaching ten feet in diameter, these plants can easily support the weight of a small child. While their immense size alone makes them the crown jewel of any aquatic garden, it is their unique reproductive biology that is, perhaps, their most awe-inspiring trait.

Victoria flowers are borne singly and last only 48 hours. The floral journey begins at dusk, as the large white flower opens female; it is both highly fragrant and produces heat, attracting a specific beetle-pollinator that remains in the flower overnight. As dawn approaches, heat and fragrance wane and the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside. The flower remains closed throughout the day and changes from white to purple. Meanwhile, the pollen-producing, male portion of the flower begins to mature. Towards dusk on the second night, the now male, the purple flower opens allowing the beetle to escape through a narrow opening covered in pollen. Having gained its freedom, the pollen-coated beetle is now free to fly to a nearby female flower and repeat the process.

The lilies are in bloom now and this weekend is the perfect opportunity to share the beauty and spectacle of the giant the water lilies.

Blog was written by Patrick Lynch, Plant Records Curator for Bok Tower Gardens.