After 177 years at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s herbarium, a massive water lily was found to be a member of an entirely new species.
According to a press statement from the gardens in Kew, west London, Victoria boliviana is the largest species of water lily that is known to exist, with leaves that may expand to about 10 feet wide in the wild. The species’ biggest specimen, with leaves as wide as 10.5 feet, may be found at Bolivia’s La Rinconada Gardens.
One of the three species of the Victoria genus’ enormous water lily has a leaf that can carry at least 176 pounds.
“Having this new information for Victoria and identifying a new species in the genus is an incredible achievement in botany,” said Alex Monro, a taxonomist, systematist, and field botanist at Kew and a senior author of the study. It was published on Monday in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
Carlos Magdalena, a research coauthor, and his 6-year-old son with V. boliviana.
According to the study, Victoria amazonica, one of the two previously recognized species of gigantic water lily, was often and wrongly confused with the newly described species, V. boliviana.
For the majority of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was controversy about the number of recognized species and errors in species nomenclature due to the loss of living specimens of the original species and the dearth of biological collections of gigantic water lilies. The study’s objective was to further our understanding of Victoria water lilies.
The National Herbarium of Bolivia, Santa Cruz de La Sierra Botanic Garden, and La Rinconada Garden joined forces with an international team led by Kew’s scientific and botanical research horticulturist, Carlos Magdalena, botanical artist Lucy Smith, and biodiversity genomics researcher Natalia Przelomska to make the first discovery of a giant water lily in more than a century.
By creating a list of species features, using DNA analysis, and integrating all available data from historical records, horticulture, and geography, the team accomplished the breakthrough.
Magdalena said that Kew is the only location in the world where all three varieties of Victoria are grown side by side, allowing for a comparison of the species that is not feasible when they are found in the wild, where they spread out across wide distances.
Victoria boliviana specimens have been raised at Kew for 177 years.
According to the study, V. cruziana and V. boliviana may have diverged roughly a million years ago, with V. cruziana being more closely linked to V. cruziana genetically than any of the other two species.
Magdalena suspected there was a third species since 2006 after spotting a picture of the plant online. “For almost two decades, I have been closely examining every single picture of wild Victoria waterlilies over the internet, a luxury that a botanist from the 18th, 19th, and most of the 20th century didn’t have,” she said.
The official designation of this new species, he added, “has been the biggest accomplishment of my 20-year career at Kew. I have learned so much in the process.
The Waterlily House and Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens both display the enormous waterlily.