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Giant Water Lily of the Amazon (Victoria amazonica)


Named in honor of Queen Victoria of England in 1838, Victoria amazonica is the largest water lily in the world. Its enormous, round, floating leaves can be seven feet wide and the fragrant white flowers are up to one foot across heaving the size of a soccer ball. The flower turns purple after it is pollinated. The pollinators are large scarab beetles.The stems, flower buds, and undersides of the leaves are covered with sharp spines. Victoria grows in the warm waters of lakes and rivers throughout the Amazon River basin of South America. 

Travellers to the Amazon observed that each huge flower opens for only two nights and that large brown beetles are often inside. In the 1970's, a team of scientists from Brazil and The New York Botanical Garden were the first to unravel the complex relationship between the beetles and the flowers.


On the first night, the flower unfurls and scarab beetles are drawn to its butterscotch-and-pineapple scent and pure white color. They are also drawn to its warmth. The researchers found that the flower actually heats up. If the air temperature is 80  F then the inside of the flower can be a cozy 98  F. The beetles crawl inside to stay warm and eat special supplies of sugar and starch. Later that night, the flower cools, closes, and the beetles are trapped inside. As it closes, the flower changes color from white, to pink, to purple. All the next day the beetles stay inside, munching their special food.


In so-called black water lakes, with relatively clear water, the giant lilies do grow not as big as in white water lakes that carry more sediment, and hence nutrients for growth. As the pad ages it is eaten by insects and other aquatic herbivores.


Typical habitat of the giant lily is a quiet backwater lake, undisturbed by currents. The lilies are often found growing in swamps surrounded by impenetrable spiny palm forest.



The underside of the giant water lily is covered with sharp, inch-long spines which protect the pad from herbivorous fishes. The pattern of ribs helps support the huge leaf.





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