Its leaves can grow ten feet across and support the weight of a man, it has an enormous pink flower and comes from Bolivia. It’s Victoriana boliviana, the world’s largest waterlily, and scientists at Kew Gardens in London have just named and chronicled it.
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The other two species of in this genus, Victoria amazonica, and Victoria cruziana, are old news, no matter how beautiful. Kew botanists have for a while suspected there might be a third species. They’ve been working with giant waterlily seeds donated by Santa Cruz de la Sierra Botanic Garden and La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia for the last six years. Once they germinated and grew the seeds, the Kew botanists could do a side-by-side comparison with the other two species, which were already in their collection. When they analyzed the plants’ DNA, they uncovered distinct differences.
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Carlos Magdalena, Kew’s scientific and botanical research horticulturist, is thrilled this mystery is finally solved. He called Victoria boliviana the biggest achievement in his 20-year Kew career. “Ever since I first saw a picture of this plant online in 2006, I was convinced it was a new species,” he said, as reported by The Guardian. “Horticulturists know their plants closely; we are often able to recognize them at a glimpse.” The more he surfed waterlily websites, the more convinced he was that there was a third species. “For almost two decades, I have been scrutinizing 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.”
While the waterlily has just been identified as a new species, Stephan G Beck, professor emeritus at the National Herbarium of Bolivia, collected a sample as far back as 1988. He just didn’t recognize what he had. He misidentified the tremendous plant he found way up the Yacuma River as cruziana.
Call the flower what you will, indigenous people of the Amazon are probably the folks least surprised by this botanical breakthrough. They’ve been using giant waterlilies for food and medicine for quite some time.
Via The Guardian
Lead image via Pexels