Victoria amazonica

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Queen Victoria's water lily
Victoria amazonica at the Adelaide Botanic Garden, South Australia
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Order: Nymphaeales
Family: Nymphaeaceae
Genus: Victoria
V. amazonica
Binomial name
Victoria amazonica
  • Euryale amazonica Poepp
  • Nymphaea victoria M.R.Schomb. ex Lindl.
  • Victoria regina R.H.Schomb.
  • Victoria regia Lindl.

Victoria amazonica is a species of flowering plant, the second largest in the water lily family Nymphaeaceae. It is called uape jacana ("the lilytrotter's waterlily") in Brazil and Atun Sisac ("great flower") in Inca (Quechua). Its native region is tropical South America, specifically Guyana and the Amazon Basin.


Illustration by Fitch, 1851

The species is a member of the genus Victoria, placed in the family Nymphaeaceae or sometimes in the Euryalaceae.[4] The first published description of the genus was by John Lindley in October 1837, based on specimens of this plant returned from British Guiana by Robert Schomburgk. Lindley named the genus after the newly ascended Queen Victoria, and the species Victoria regia.[1] The spelling in Schomburgk's description in Athenaeum, published the month before, was given as Victoria Regina.[2] Despite this spelling being adopted by the Botanical Society of London for their new emblem, Lindley's was the version used throughout the 19th century.[3][5]

An earlier account of the species, Euryale amazonica by Eduard Friedrich Poeppig, in 1832 described an affinity with Euryale ferox. A collection and description was also made by the French botanist Aimé Bonpland in 1825.[1][6] In 1850 James De Carle Sowerby[7] recognized Poeppig's earlier description and transferred its epithet amazonica. The new name was rejected by Lindley. The current name, Victoria amazonica, did not come into widespread use until the 20th century.[3]


The diploid chromosome count of Victoria amazonica is 20.[8]


Victoria amazonica has very large leaves (lamina) (and commonly called "pads" or "lily pads"), up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter, that float on the water's surface on a submerged stalk (petiole), 7–8 m (23–26 ft) in length, rivaling the length of the green anaconda, a snake local to its habitat. These leaves are enormously buoyant if the weight is distributed evenly over the entire surface of the leaf (as by a piece of plywood, which should be of neutral buoyancy). In 1896 a V. amazonica leaf at Tower Grove Park, Saint Louis, Missouri bore the "unprecedented" weight of 250 pounds (113.6 kg).[9] However, in 1867 William Sowerby of Regents Park Botanic Garden in London placed 426 pounds (193.9 kg) on a leaf only 5' 6" (168 cm) in diameter.[10] One leaf of a specimen grown in Ghent, Belgium bore a load of 498 pounds (226 kg)[11] It is the second-largest waterlily in the world.

V. amazonica is native to the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin, such as oxbow lakes (called iguarapes) and bayous (called paranas). In their native habitat, the flowers first begin to open as the sun starts to set and can take up to 48 hours to fully open up.[12] These flowers can grow up to 40 cm (16 in) in diameter and 3.5 pounds ( 1.6 kilograms) in weight.[13], exceeded in mass only by members of the genus Rafflesia. All of the flowers of one particular plant will, on a given evening, all be in the female phase or all in the male phase, so that pollination must be by a different individual, precluding self-pollination.[14]

The stem and underside of the leaves are coated with many small spines to defend itself from fish and other herbivores that dwell underwater,[15] although they can also play an offensive role in crushing rival plants in the vicinity as the lily unfolds as it aggressively seeks and hogs sunlight,[16] depriving other plants directly beneath its leaves of such vital resource and significantly darkening the waters below.[17] Younger giant water lilies are even known to swing their spiny stalks and buds around as they grow to forcibly make space for themselves.[18]


Each plant continues to produce flowers for a full growing season, and they have co-evolved a mutualistic relationship with a species of scarab beetle of the genus Cyclocephala as a pollinator.[19] All the buds in a single patch will begin to open at the same time and as they do, they give off a fruity smell.[12] At this point the flower petals are white, and the beetles are attracted both to the colour and the smell of the flower. At nightfall the flower stops producing the odor, and it closes, trapping the beetles inside its carpellary appendages.[12] Here, the stamens are protected by the paracarpels and for the next day the flower continues to remain closed. The cavity in which the beetle is trapped is composed of a spongy, starchy tissue that provides nourishment for the beetle. During this time, anthocyanins start to be released by the plant, which in turn changes the petals from white to a reddish pink colour, a sign that the flower will have been pollinated.[12] As the beetle munches away inside the flower, the stamens fall inward and the anthers, which have already fallen, drop pollen on the stamens.[12] During the evening of the second day, the flowers will have opened enough to release the beetle, and as it pushes its way through the stamens it becomes covered in pollen.[12] These insects will then go on to find a newly opened water lily and pollinate with the pollen they are carrying from the previous flower. This process was described in detail by Sir Ghillean Prance and Jorge Arius.[12][20]


"On unbent leaf in fairy guise, Reflected in the water, Beloved, admired by hearts and eyes, Stands Annie, Paxton's daughter...": "The Gigantic Waterlily (Victoria Regia), In Flower At Chatsworth", 1849

Victoria regia, as it was named, was described by Tadeáš Haenke in 1801.[21] It was once the subject of rivalry between Victorian gardeners in England. Always on the lookout for a spectacular new species with which to impress their peers, Victorian "gardeners"[22] such as the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Northumberland started a well-mannered competition to become the first to cultivate and bring to flower this enormous lily. In the end, the two aforementioned dukes became the first to achieve this, Joseph Paxton (for the Duke of Devonshire) being the first in November 1849 by replicating the lily's warm swampy habitat (not easy in winter in England with only coal-fired boilers for heating), and a "Mr Ivison" the second and more constantly successful (for Northumberland) at Syon House.

The species captured the imagination of the public and was the subject of several dedicated monographs. The botanical illustrations of cultivated specimens in Fitch and W.J. Hooker's 1851 work Victoria Regia[23] received critical acclaim in the Athenaeum, "they are accurate, and they are beautiful".[24] "The Duke of Devonshire presented Queen Victoria with one of the first of these flowers and named it in her honour. The lily, with ribbed undersurface and leaves veining "like transverse girders and supports", "as Paxton's inspiration for The Crystal Palace, a building four times the size of St. Peter's in Rome."[25]

It is depicted in the Guyanese coat of arms.[26]



  1. ^ a b c Knotts, Kit. "Victoria's History". Victoria Adventure. Knotts. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  2. ^ a b R.H.Schomb., Athenaeum 515:661. Sep 9. 1837
  3. ^ a b c Trehane, Piers; Pagels, Walter (2001). "Victoria Regia or Victoria Regina? How A Politics Can Change A Waterlily Name". Letters. (cited at GRIN). Victoria Adventure. Archived from the original on 13 August 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  4. ^ "Genus: Victoria Lindl". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 27 January 2005. Archived from the original on 13 August 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  5. ^ Opitz, Donald L. (21 June 2013). "'The sceptre of her pow'r': nymphs, nobility, and nomenclature in early Victorian science". The British Journal for the History of Science. 47 (1): 67–94. doi:10.1017/S0007087413000319. S2CID 143944267.
  6. ^ "Nymphaeaceae Victoria Lindl". Plant Name Details. International Plant Name Index. 2005. Archived from the original on 13 August 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  7. ^ Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., Ser. 2, 6, 310
  8. ^ Pellicer, J., Kelly, L. J., Magdalena, C., & Leitch, I. J. (2013). "Insights into the dynamics of genome size and chromosome evolution in the early diverging angiosperm lineage Nymphaeales (water lilies)." Genome, 56(8), 437-449.
  9. ^ Tricker, William (1897). The Water Garden. New York: A. T. De la Mare Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd. p. 54.
  10. ^ Gardener's Chronicle Volume 29 (first series) (November 6, 1869) p.1164.
  11. ^ Gardener's Chronicle op. cit. p. 865.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Prance, Ghillean T.; Arius, Jorge R. (1975). "A study of the floral biology of Victoria amazonica (Poepp.) Sowerby (Nymphaeaceae)". Acta Amazonica. 5 (2): 109–139. doi:10.1590/1809-43921975052109.
  13. ^ Vincent, Frank (1898). The Plant World. New York: D. Appleton and Co. p. 125.
  14. ^ Prance, Ghillian T.; Lovejoy, Thomas E. (1985). Key Environments - Amazonia. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. p. 181.
  15. ^ "Giant Water lily". Conservatory of Flowers. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  16. ^ Daniel, Hugo (9 January 2022). "Sir David Attenborough and a murder most florid". The Times. Retrieved 28 January 2022.(subscription required)
  17. ^ "Victoria Water Lily Facts". Rainforest Cruises. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  18. ^ "The Tyrant of the Deep - The Green Planet - BBC Earth". YouTube. BBC Earth. 16 January 2022. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  19. ^ SEYMOUR, ROGER S.; MATTHEWS, PHILIP G. D. (December 2006). "The Role of Thermogenesis in the Pollination Biology of the Amazon Waterlily Victoria amazonica". Annals of Botany. 98 (6): 1129–1135. doi:10.1093/aob/mcl201. ISSN 0305-7364. PMC 2803590. PMID 17018568.
  20. ^ "Myths and Misunderstandings About Victoria". Archived from the original on 15 August 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Sonderausstellung 2004 | BGBM". Archived from the original on 3 November 2016. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  22. ^ In reality they did little or no actual gardening at all, but employed talented horticulturalists such as Joseph Paxton (for Devonshire) and the forgotten Mr Ivison (for Northumberland) to run their estates and gardens.
  23. ^ "Victoria Regia : or, Illustrations of the Royal water-lily, in a series of figures chiefly made from specimens flowering at Syon and at Kew by Walter Fitch; with descriptions by Sir W. J. Hooker. ".
  24. ^ Allibone, Samuel Austin (1863). A critical dictionary of English literature and British and American authors. Vol. 1. George W. Childs.
  25. ^ H. Peter Loewer. The Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance from Dusk Till Dawn. Timber Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-88192-532-6. Page 130.
  26. ^ Knotts, Kit. "Victoria's history". Water Gardeners International. Retrieved 10 August 2020.

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