The largest waterlily has just been hiding in plain sight. The newly identified Victoria boliviana has been housed in the Kew Gardens in London for 177 years, where it was long misindentified as Victoria amazonica. A team of experts led by Oscar Escobar and Natalia Przelomska proved that Victoria boliviana was a separate species by studying new and historical data.
Victoria boliviana is now also the largest waterlily after a specimen in La Rinconada Gardens of Bolivia measured 3.2 meters in width. Like other Victoria species, Victoria boliviana is so big it could support the weight of a child.
It is native to Llanos de Moxos, a wetland region in Beni, Bolivia. It blooms with several flowers each year, but each flower only opens one at a time. The flowers only bloom for a brief period of two nights as it transitions from white to pink. It is also characterized by its underside which, according to scientists at the Kew Gardens, resembles a “cross between a suspension bridge and the roof of an old cathedral.”
The Victoria genus has two member species: Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana. Though scientists have long suspected a third member of the genus, it has been difficult to prove so due to lack of data.
But in 2016, Carlos Magdalena, an expert on waterlilies, planted seeds of Victoria boliviana in the Kew Garden after two Bolivian botanic institutions donated the seeds to him. Magdalena immediately saw that the seeds were different from Victoria amazonica. When the waterlilies grew, Magdalena also observed that the distribution of prickles was different compared to Victoria amazonica.
The hypothesis that Victoria boliviana was its own species was proven after scientists at Kew Garden analyzed the DNA of all three species in the Victoria genus and found that Victoria boliviana was genetically different from the other two.