The first giant water lily discovered in more than 100 years is the largest in the world

Measured giant water lily

Lucy and Carlos at the Princess of Wales Conservatory in Kew with V.boliviana. Credit: RBG Kew

A giant water lily that has been growing in the Kew Gardens Herbarium in London, UK, for 177 years, was recently discovered as a new species based on the remarkable intuition of a water lily expert. This is the first discovery of a new species of giant water lily in over a century. Only two other known species of giant water lily exist in the famous Victoria genus and this new species now makes them a trio.

The discovery, published in Frontiers in Plant Science, was led by horticulturist Carlos Magdalena and botanical artist Lucy Smith. Magdalena became convinced that there was a third member of the Victoria genus after seeing photographs of the plant online in 2006.

“For nearly two decades, I have examined every image of wild Victorian water lilies on the internet, a luxury that a botanist of the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century did not have,” Magdalena explained in a statement sent at IFLscience.

Two specimens, including the one from Kew and one that has been growing in the National Herbarium of Bolivia for 34 years, were previously considered amazon victoria. However, after a long investigation, the team was able to confirm that it was a new scientific species.

The new name of this giant water lily is in honor of the country where it is located and the Bolivian partners of the project. victoria bolivia is found in the aquatic ecosystems of the Llanos de Moxos and is now the largest species of giant water lily in the world. The leaves can reach 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter with the record currently held by La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia with leaves from their specimens reaching 3.2 meters in diameter.

Giant water lilies in a river in Bolivia on a gorgeous sunny day

Victoria boliviana growing wild in Bolivia. Image credit: Carlos Magdalena, RBG Kew

Cash in the Victoria genus have been difficult to characterize for many years, in particular because the collection of wild specimens of giant water lilies is very difficult. Additionally, a lack of “type specimens” which are specimens of the plant that were involved in the original process to help name the species have been missing. Amazon V. was the first to be named in this genus in 1832, but data are lacking to compare new specimens with it.

“Having this new data for Victoria and identifying a new species in the genus is an incredible achievement in botany – correctly identifying and documenting plant diversity is crucial to protecting it and sustainably benefiting from it.”

Dr. Alex Monro, lead author

To arrive at the identification of this species, the team used a combination of historical, geographical and horticultural records, as well as live specimens from around the world. They also took to social media using citizen science to watch the tagging of images Victoria and other giant water lilies.

Botanical artist Lucy Smith, shared Madeleine’s suspicions of the water lily during her frequent nighttime visits to the greenhouse to illustrate them, as the flowers are only open at night. There, she realized the unique characteristics and set about describing them through her works.

Illustration of Victoria Bolivia

Illustration by Victoria boliviana Credit Lucy Smith.

Natalia Przelomska and Oscar A. Pérez-Escobar from Kew carried out an extensive DNA analysis of V.boliviana and found that it was genetically very different from the two known species. Their results suggest that v. bolivia is most closely related to V.cruziana and that they diverged about a million years ago.

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