On Monday, experts at Kew Gardens in London revealed they had discovered the first new species of giant water lily since the mid-19th century – after it was initially mistaken for another.
Specimens of the new species have been found in the botanical garden for 177 years and in the National Herbarium of Bolivia for 34 years.
They are thought to come from “Victoria amazonica,” one of two known varieties of giant water lilies, which were named after Queen Victoria in 1852.
But their true identities were revealed after experts at Kew Gardens worked with a team from the Latin American country to determine that they were in fact a third variant.
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KEW GARDENS discovers new water lily species
“Victoria boliviana” is not only the latest giant water lily, with leaves up to three meters long in the wild, it is also the largest in the world.
A paper published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science outlines a paper detailing years of detective work.
Santa Cruz de La Sierra Botanic Garden and La Rinconada Gardens from Bolivia donated seeds of what appears to be a third giant water lily.
Botanical artist Lucy Smith said they had been growing – unlabeled – in a greenhouse in Kew for the past four years.
“A few people asked, why does this look so different from the others? But we had to say, well, we think it’s similar to this or similar to that,”
She told AFP.
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“So in fact, we’ve been keeping this wonderful secret in plain sight.”
Carlos Magdalena, a research horticulturalist specializing in saving endangered plant species, described the plant as “one of the botanical wonders of the world”.
About 2,000 new plant species are discovered each year, Magdalena said, but added: “I think it’s very unusual that plants of this scale will be discovered in 2022.
“It’s unusual. It also underscores how much there could be there.
“It really highlights how little we ultimately know about the natural world.”
The giant water lilies bloom at night, turning from white to pink.
“Victoria boliviana” was named in honor of the Bolivian partners in the team and the natural ecosystem of plants.
Kew Gardens is the only place in the world where the three species of the genus Victoria – “amazonica”, “cruziana” and now “boliviana” can be seen side by side.