Third species of giant water lily discovered in Kew Gardens | Plants

A giant water lily grown at Kew Gardens has been named as new to science, with the first discovery of its species in over a century.

Scientists in London’s South West Garden had suspected for decades that there might be a third species of giant water lily and teamed up with researchers in their native Bolivia to see if their thesis was correct.

In 2016, Bolivian institutions Santa Cruz de la Sierra Botanic Garden and La Rinconada Gardens donated a collection of giant water lily seeds of the suspected third species. These were germinated and grown at Kew so that they could be grown alongside the other two species. Scientists also studied the DNA of the three plants and found that they were markedly different from each other.

The three species in the genus are: amazon victory cruziana and Bolivian, named after Queen Victoria. The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, suggest the new species is most closely related to Victoria cruzianaand that they diverged about a million years ago.

Natalia Przelomska, a scientist at Kew who worked on the project, said: “In light of the rapid loss of biodiversity, describing new species is a task of fundamental importance; we hope that our multidisciplinary framework can inspire other researchers seeking are looking for approaches to identify new species quickly and vigorously.”

Carlos Magdalena said the discovery of the third species was the greatest achievement of his 20-year career at Kew. Photo: Ines Stuart-Davidson/Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

With leaves that grow up to three meters in the wild, it is also the largest giant water lily in the world. The showy lily has flowers that fade from white to pink, and bears spiny petioles, the stem that attaches the leaf to the stem. Found naturally in the aquatic ecosystems of Llanos de Moxos, the current record for the largest plant of the species is held by La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia, where the leaves reached 3.2 meters in height.

Specimens of this large aquatic plant have been in the Kew herbarium for 177 years and the Bolivian National Herbarium for 34 years, but it was widely believed to be one of the other two species.

Scientists have called it Bolivian victory, in honor of his South American home. There is a gap in our knowledge of giant water lilies as there are very few specimens of the original plants used to classify and name species in the Victorian era. This may be because giant water lilies are difficult to collect in the wild.

Kew’s scientific and botanical research horticulturist Carlos Magdalena said the discovery is the greatest achievement of his 20-year career at Kew.

He added: “Ever since I first saw a photo of this plant online in 2006, I was convinced it was a new species. Gardeners know their plants well; we can often recognize them in the blink of an eye.

“It was clear to me that this plant didn’t quite fit the description of one of the well-known ones Victoria kind and therefore it had to be a third. For nearly twenty years, I’ve been studying every photo of wild Victoria water lilies on the Internet, a luxury that a botanist of the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century lacked.”

The specimen from Bolivia used to describe the new species was collected in 1988 by Dr. Stephan G Beck, Professor Emeritus at the National Herbarium of Bolivia, who thought it Cruzian victory

Lucy Smith
Scientists have given the plant a name Bolivian victory, in honor of his South American home. Photo: Ines Stuart-Davidson/Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

He said: “When the National Herbarium of Bolivia was born in 1984, there were very few scientific collections for Bolivia and many places to study, but I focused my interest on an area in the Llanos de Moxos. For several years I had the opportunity to collect aquatic plants in flooded areas of the Yacuma River, and I clearly wanted to Queen Victoria what the locals told me about.

“However, it took me years to find this amazing plant. Finally, in March 1988, after cruising the Yacuma River for over two hours in search of tributaries with several huge leaves and some flowers, I collected and preserved them at the National Herbarium of Bolivia, which turned out to be a specimen of Bolivian victory, now the type instance. It was a great find and one I will always remember.”

The plant is now on display in the water lily house and conservatory of the Princess of Wales at Kew Gardens. Kew is the only place in the world where you can see the three described species of Victoria side by side.

Giant water lilies – the wonder of the Victorian era

Opened in 1852, the water lily house at Kew Gardens was built to house the giant plants discovered by explorers in the Amazon basin.

The giant water lily amazon victory gathered crowds that marveled at the huge round leaves, strong enough to bear the weight of a child.

A race to present the first giant water lily flower to Queen Victoria was held among botanists after Kew Gardens spent ten years trying to grow the seeds. Six of these were successfully germinated, some were preserved and the rest were sent to Syon House in London and Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

Despite the amazement of the Western world, the plant was well known to the indigenous people of the Amazon, who used it for food and medicine.

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