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Scientists discover world's largest waterlily with 10 foot span

Audacy logo Audacy 7/7/2022 Colin Martin
Botanical artist Lucy Smith (L) and Kew Gardens' scientific and botanical research horticulturalist Carlos Magdalena (R) pose for photographs with the © Provided by KYW Radio Philadelphia Botanical artist Lucy Smith (L) and Kew Gardens' scientific and botanical research horticulturalist Carlos Magdalena (R) pose for photographs with the

The Waterlily House located in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, just outside of London, was built in 1852, according to BBC News, and has since been home to two subspecies of giant lily pads brought to the United Kingdom from Bolivia.

Although, scientists recently discovered a third waterlily species that's secretly been there the whole time, and it's also the world's largest. They published their findings on Monday in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

The original two subspecies, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana, were named after Queen Victoria in 1852, according to NBC News.

So it's only fitting that scientists named the third giant waterlily Victoria boliviana "in honor of the research team’s Bolivian partners and after one of the South American homes of the giant waterlily."

The newly named giant waterlily can grow up to 10 feet wide, and is strong enough to be able to hold as much weight as an adult man.

Horticulturist Carlos Magdalena, the world's top waterlily expert, told BBC News that he had believed for a while that the Victoria boliviana was different from the other two species. So he found a way to research them, and was able to get scientists from the National Herbarium of Bolivia, Santa Cruz Botanic Gardens and Public Botanic Garden La Rinconada to ship waterlily seeds to Kew in 2016 to compare the species.

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

Botanical illustrator Lucy Smith worked with Magdalena and was able to study the flowers of the waterlilies and draw out the differences among the three species.

"I was able to get access to the flowers, and also by looking at the leaves, I could, as an illustrator, highlight those differences that I saw," Smith told BBC News. "And in fact, while I was drawing those differences, they became even stronger in my mind and I found new ways of telling them apart."

Smith went on to tell NBC News that the flowers only open up at night and can be bigger than a soccer ball. She explained that identifying a new species can take a long time, and there are likely tons of other plant species in the world that scientists aren't aware of yet.

“I help scientists describe new species every year, and they’re not all as big and charismatic as this new species of Victoria, but they all matter. Every single plant in an ecosystem has an important role to play," Smith said.

"Perhaps we can use the most giant and charismatic plants to highlight the fact that there are many plant species out there still not known to science and not understood."

Alex Monro, from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, also believes that this finding can help push scientists to study other unknowns, and added that the large size of the waterlilies made many not take the time to study them.

"None of the three species have been very well studied," Monro told BBC News. "We still don't know how many populations there are and how much they vary in size. We don't really understand the pollination biology very well. We don't know a lot about the dispersal of the species - how it transmits itself from one place to another.

"So there are still many unknowns. And I think, because they're so huge - so obvious - people haven't really thought to study them in that much detail."

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