Why do giant water lilies get so big

Kew Gardens, the vast and famous London botanical garden, has announced that it has discovered a new species of giant water lily. Or rather: to have a specimen in his herbarium, where more than 7 million specimens of dried plants are kept, for 177 years, but only now have they been identified. Species have been named Bolivian Victoria So far, it has not been identified Victoria Amazonica.

Both types of water lilies are native to South America, as their name implies, and the first type can be called a species of water lily with the largest leaves in the world: its diameter can reach 3 meters. The current record of display is kept by a specimen growing in La Rinconada Botanical Garden in Santa Cruz, Bolivia: its leaves reach 3.2 meters in diameter.

With the new discovery, three known species of giant water lilies have become: the third type is also from South America, and is called Victoria Cruziana.

three o’clock Victoria, named in honor of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, is included in the Ninfeaceae: that is, according to scientific nomenclature, it is part of the same family of European and Asian water lilies although much larger. In general, all water lilies are aquatic herbaceous plants: they take root in the bottoms of shallow bodies of water, and their leaves and flowers float to the surface.

types of sex Victoria They are those that have more circular leaves, as well as broad ones: leaves CruzianaAlthough they are smaller in size, they can still reach 1 meter and 20 centimeters in diameter. The eldest can bear the weight of the child.

Cerro Lake in Limpio, Paraguay, April 13, 2021: The giant water lilies that grow there belong to the Victoria Cruziana family (Juan Carlos Meza/Getty Images)

The leaves of American water lilies float without problems despite their size thanks to the complex structure of the ribs (“veins” of the leaves) on the underside, those that lie on the water. They form a network through which the air pockets are trapped and which act as a life preserver. The leaves of European and Asian water lilies do not have a similar structure on the underside and are less stiff.

For giant water lilies, the ability to cover a large area with their leaves gives an evolutionary advantage, because they deprive competing aquatic plants of space, preventing them from reaching the surface and therefore light, thanks to which plants perform photosynthesis and obtain food. Thanks to its resistance, it is not damaged by waterfowl and the thorns along the edges protect it from fish.

New species grow in Llanos de Moxos, one of the largest swamps in the world located in northern Bolivia; There, among other species, live a species of river dolphin and species of parrots that are in danger of extinction. This species naturally produces many flowers throughout the year, which open one by one and for only two nights. The petals are white at first, then turn pink.

It was understood that it was a different species from the two already known thanks to the work of the botanist and researcher in the gardens of Kew Carlos Magdalena. Carlos Magdalena suspected that Bolivian water lilies were not the same as those of Paraguay and Amazon, and asked local botanical gardens to provide him with seeds. In 2016 they were sent to her from Santa Cruz and in the following years Magdalena studied the plants that were born, comparing them with those of the Victoria Amazonica.

The new species is mainly distinguished by the distribution of thorns and the shape of the seeds. The distinction was subsequently confirmed by genetic analyzes, which also revealed that Bolivian Victoria it’s more like Cruziana From V. AmazonicaAnd all this is stated in a study published July 4 in the journal Frontiers in plant sciences.

Carlos Magdalena, right, amid the Bolivian Victoria leaves, July 1, 2022 at Kew Gardens (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Previously it was not possible to make a direct comparison because the three types Victoria They do not grow in the same geographical areas – and it is difficult to keep them all in the same vegetable garden, because they take up so much space.

The second discovery was made by illustrator Lucy Smith, a Kew Gardens collaborator tasked with making scientific drawings of the then supposed new species. Smith then compared them to drawings of giant water lilies in the Kew Gardens Archives and identified the same plant in illustrations by artist Walter Hood Fitch in 1845, who used a specimen whose seed came from Bolivia as a model.

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