THE GIANT AMAZON WATER LILY




The giant Amazon water lily is one of those rare plants that captures the imagination of children and grown ups alike. Famous for having leaves so large and sturdy that you could place a child or even a petite woman upon one without the risk of sinking, the giant Amazon water lily is truly one of the stars of most botanical gardens - so long as they have the facilities to grow one.


A little known fact about the structure of the underside of the enormous lily pads is that they were the inspiration for the structure of largest Victorian glasshouse in existence - the famous Palm House built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848.

The water lily house at Kew is as square glazed structure which encloses a circular pond spanning 36 feet. It was completed in 1852 specifically to showcase the giant Amazon water lily. At this time, the Water lily House was at the time the widest single-span glasshouse in the world. Disappointingly, the giant Amazon water lily but the plant never thrived there.

History

The giant Amazon water lily was originally discovered in Guiana by the Victorian explorer Sir Robert Schomburgk in 1837, although a German called Poeppig had earlier seen and described it while rafting down the Amazon.

This led to a good deal of confusion over naming of this aquatic giant. According to the arcane but rigid rules of botanical nomenclature it should correctly be called Victoria amazonica but throughout the reign of Queen Victoria it was known as Victoria regia (literally Queen Victoria) and only assumed its botanically correct name after the old Queen died and it was safe to change the labels.

Once the first seeds were brought back to England there was a race amongst the landed gentry to be the first to cultivate the plant and present a flower to the Queen, victory going to the Duke of Devonshire whose head gardener at Chatsworth, Joseph Paxton, built a suitably large glasshouse to accommodate the monster plant ... with no expense spared.

Description

The enormous circular leaves of the giant Amazon water lily, which grow to over 2.5 m across, have upturned rims and are anchored by long stalks arising from an underground stem buried in the mud of the river bottom. The leaves first appear as spiny heads but expand rapidly up to half a square metre per day. The upper surface has a rather quilted appearance and a waxy layer that repels water.

The purplish red under-surface has a network of ribs clad in abundant sharp spines, possibly a defence against herbivorous fishes and manatees. Air trapped in the spaces between the ribs enables the leaves to float. They are so buoyant that they can easily support the weight of a small child, and a mature leaf can support 45 kg if the load is evenly distributed. In a single season, each plant produces some 40 to 50 leaves, which cover the water surface and exclude light, thus restricting the growth of most other plants.

Check out the film clip below to view the time lapse opening of giant waterlily at Kew Gardens



For further reading click onto:
HOW TO GROW GIANT SUNFLOWERS
HOW TO MAINTAIN AND LOOK AFTER BIOLOGICAL SPONGE POND FILTERS
HOW TO MAINTAIN AND LOOK AFTER A HEALTHY POND
Native British Pond Plants
MADONNA LILY - Lilium candidum
THE GIANT AMAZON WATER LILY
WATER LILY - Nymphaea species and cultivars
WHAT CAUSES POND WATER PROBLEMS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
WHAT IS THE WORLD'S LARGEST LEAF?

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