Species Spotlight: A new Giant Water Lily has been discovered!

By Shannah Cumberbatch

One of these things is not like the other!

Have you ever looked at two things daily for years thinking they were the same, and suddenly realized one day that they were completely different? Well, that’s exactly what happened when biologists recently discovered a new water lily species hiding in plain sight among other species. The Victoria boliviana, named for its geographic origin in Bolivia, had been mistaken for another giant water lily (V. amazonica) for over 100 years. All of the giant water lily species are special in that they are named after the late Queen Victoria. This new giant water lily stands (or floats!) as the largest of the giant water lily species, with pads growing up to 10 feet wide! It is now the largest of the giant water lilies, and it has been recorded to hold up to 176 pounds of weight! One striking difference between this lily and the other known species is that the flower changes color from white to pink during its life cycle.

Giant Victoria water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. These lilies bloom very infrequently, unlike the newly discovered Victoria boliviana species.

If you visited the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in years gone by (before Covid-19), you might recall seeing the giant pads of the Victoria amazonica water lily. Hardy water lilies in nearby ponds pale compared to the size of the giant water lily pads. Unlike the hardy water lilies that bloom at the gardens, V. boliviana blooms year-round in its natural habitat. In Bolivia, the V. boliviana water lily grows in freshwater rivers, ponds, and floodplains. The ponds at the Gardens are all connected to one another and to the Anacostia River, a local source of fresh water. It’s no secret that we were able to maintain the V. amazonica in past years. 

Despite the excitement surrounding the discovery of this new species, biologists have found there is a higher risk of extinction due to deforestation of the Amazon. While we appreciate this flower’s beauty, we must be sure that we are protecting this and other species for generations to come.

We hope to showcase the Victoria amazonica giant water lilies in the future, but for now, please enjoy this new scientific discovery. Happy Blooming!

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