The Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo purchased a Victoria Longwood Hybrid water lily earlier this year from American Aquatic Gardens in New Orleans. The rare water lily, native to tropical regions such as the Amazon River basin, can produce lily pads or floating leaves up to eight-feet across.
The genus Victoria was discovered in 1801. It caused quite a stir when it was introduced to Europe in the mid 1800s as the ‘Giant Water-Platter.’ Initially named Victoria regia in honor of the Queen of England, its name was later changed to V. amazonica. It is native to equatorial Brazil where it grows in calm waters along the mighty Amazon River, in ox-bow lakes (former river channels), and in flooded grasslands. Its gargantuan glossy green leaves grow to seven feet in diameter, with a pronounced maroon lip around the circumference. The lip is notched in two places to drain rainwater. As if prepared for the fight of its life, much of the Victoria is covered with flesh-piercing spines. Only the roots, flowers and the upper sides of the leaves are spine-free. The lush, 12-inch flowers open at night, heralded by a fruity fragrance described as reminiscent of pineapple. A second recognized species, Victoria cruziana, (sometimes mistakenly called V. trickerii), is found in the cooler waterways of Argentina and Paraguay. V. cruziana has smaller leaves (only four to six feet!), a higher lip that is generally green, and is obviously more cold tolerant, making it popular for culture in the U.S.
Victoria exhibits some extraordinary structural characteristics. A notch in the middle of the leaf rim allows rainwater to drain from the surface of each pad. Spectacular sharp spines cover the underside of the leaves, the stems, and the flower buds, protecting the leaves from animals and fish. A web-like structure of hollow ribs supports the underside of the leaves; these ribs are filled with air and provide for exceptional buoyancy. In an experiment using sandbags, Victoria were found to support up to 300 pounds on a single pad. Young plants can grow at an amazing rate, exhibiting increases in individual pad diameter of over eight inches in one day.
The ‘Longwood hybrid’ is a giant among aquatic plants with its spectacular and spiny lily pads and exquisite white flowers that open at night. These South American natives are found growing in the calm backwaters of the Amazon River where they produce flowers that last only two or three days. This plant’s varied textures, colors, and shapes offer beauty and grace throughout the year.