Known as the Giant Amazonian Water lily, Victoria amazonica , named for Queen Victoria in the 1830’s, has blooms that only last two nights! Tucked between the huge circular leaves, called platters, are single buds that open white the first night attracting beetles with a sweet pineapple-like scent and with heat from a thermochemical reaction. At this stage the flower is female, and is open to receiving pollen picked up by the beetles on other plants. As the insect moves around inside the flower they transfer pollen to the stigmas and fertilization takes place. Meanwhile the flower shuts, trapping them until the next evening. During the following day the plant amazingly changes from female to male: the anthers mature and start producing pollen. When the flower reopens on the second evening it has changed color to a purplish red and no longer emits an attractive scent or heat. The beetles, dusted with their pollen, fly off to find another white flower on a different plant where the process is repeated. The flower then closes up and sinks below the surface of the water, its mission accomplished in 48 hours!
This plant lives in a highly specialized habitat in the wild Amazon River basin, but here it thrives in the Damson Aquatic Garden during warm weather months. We grow the Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’, which was first developed by Longwood Garden, PA in 1960. Victoria x ‘Longwood Hybrid’, is a cross between the Water Platters, Victoria cruziana and Victoria amazonica, which we also grow at HBG.
The undersides of the giant leaves inspired one of the most famous examples of Victorian architecture known as the Crystal Palace. The adventurous design, at the cutting edge of engineering in its day and constructed with cast iron framing and the largest panes of plate glass then manufactured was a wonder of the age, earning designer Joseph Paxton a knighthood.