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Big bloom! Scientists discover world's largest water lily in London: What we know about it

Firstpost logo Firstpost 06-07-2022 FP Explainers
Big bloom! Scientists discover world's largest water lily in London: What we know about it © Provided by Firstpost Big bloom! Scientists discover world's largest water lily in London: What we know about it

A team of scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London discovered the largest water lily species in the world after it was mistakenly identified as Victoria amazonica. The new giant water lily, called Victoria boliviana, has been sitting at Kew —which holds a massive collection of preserved plants — for 177 years.

The plant has been growing in a number of aquatic collections before scientists and horticulturists proved that it is as a brand-new species of water lily on Monday.

Genus Victoria was named after the monarch in 1852. Before the new discovery, it was believed that genus Victoria included two different species. But now scientists have confirmed that the plant is a third type.

Here’s all you need to know about the new member in the lily pad family.

What is Victoria boliviana?

Victoria boliviana, now the world’s largest water lily, usually grows in freshwater rivers, floodplains and ponds in north-eastern Bolivia.

The plant produces many flowers many flowers in a year but what’s unique about Victoria boliviana is that each flower opens one at a time for two nights, turning from white to pink and surrounded by sharp prickles.

Scientists haven’t been able to put a pin on why the plant evolved to be so big, previous studies suggest that the large size of water lilies help them to fight with other plants for sunlight.

Its leaves can grow up to 10 feet wide and is big enough to carry the distributed weight of a full-grown man.

Natalia Przelomska, a member of the research team said in a NewScientist report, “The lily pads could definitely take the weight of a young child.”

The plant got its name from the South American country Bolivia, where it grows in a single water basin in the Amazon River system.

How was it discovered?

The road to Victoria boliviana’s discovery was led by horticulturist Carlos Magdalena’s suspicion that there was a third species in the Victoria genus that grew along side Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana, the previous two species of water lilies.

In 2016, two Bolivian institutions—Santa Cruz de La Sierra Botanical Garden and La Rinconada Gardens—donated a collection of giant water lily seeds to Kew Gardens. After Carlos germinated these seeds, he found out that they were different from the other two species. In 2019, he embarked on a mission to Bolivia to see the water lilies grow in the wild.

Carlos told BBC, “It meant we could grow it side-by-side with the two other species under exactly the same conditions. Once we did this, we could very clearly see that every single part of the plant was totally different.”

Genetic analysis further revealed that the ancestors of boliviana and cruziana had split from amazonica about five million years ago.

Botanical artist Lucy Smith, who has an experience in working with lily pads was called to draw illustrations of Carlos’ lily pad species. She told NBC News that as she started drawing the large lilies, she documented flowers that could grow larger than soccer balls, transform its colour from white to pink and only opens up at night. She further said, “Victoria boliviana’s leaves are so large that they can be seen through satellite imagery.”

‘Incredible achievement in botany’

Kew Gardens have had a long history of growing and studying various species of plants. The water lily house was added to its collection in 1852. The other two water lily giants that were discovered in 1852 were considered a “natural wonder of the age” according to a BBC report.

Dr Alex Monro, author of the paper on the new discoveries that was published in the journal called Frontiers in Plant Science, said, “Having this new data for Victoria and identifying a new species in the genus is an incredible achievement in botany - properly identifying and documenting plant diversity is crucial to protecting it and sustainably benefiting from it.”

He further said that working on this paper has been extra special since it involved the expertise from different field like horticulture, science and botanical art and also involved the participation of Bolivian partners.

A discovery at risk

Between all the celebrations of finding a new species of water lily, scientists have also flagged concerns about the possible extinction of Victoria boliviana. They say that the new species is at greater risk of extinction due to smaller geographical range and increased deforestation in the Amazon.

With inputs from agencies

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