Victoria amazonica, giant waterlily at Kew

Waterlily House

The Waterlily House is the hottest and most humid environment at Kew. In summer the pond is home to giant waterlilies, lotus and other exotic plants. Find it next to the Palm House.

About the Waterlily House

This small, square glasshouse was designed specifically to showcase the giant Amazon waterlily (Victoria amazonica). It was completed in 1852 and is now a listed building.

The Waterlily House is a tropical habitat displaying many colourful waterlilies, ferns, papyrus and hanging gourds. 

It encloses a circular pond spanning over 10 metres. We use fish and dye the water black (using a harmless food dye) to stop algae growth - it also makes pretty reflections!


Hand pollination and propagation

In the wild, Victoria is a short-lived perennial, pollinated by a beetle (Cylocephata castaneal), which is attracted by the floral scent.

At Kew we raise our Victoria as annuals from seed planted each January. The flowers are hand-pollinated during the summer and the resulting seed collected in the autumn.


Victoria amazonica propagation with Georgie Darroch

Victoria amazonica propagation with Georgie Darroch


Giant Amazon waterlilies

Giant waterlilies were first discovered in Bolivia in 1801 and later named Victoria amazonica in honour of Queen Victoria.

One of several V. amazonica plants germinated at Kew in the mid-19th century was sent to architect Joseph Paxton and the structure of the waterlily’s leaf is said to have inspired his design for the Crystal Palace which housed the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The leaves grow so vast they have been photographed with babies and toddlers sitting on top. Please don't try this on your visit!


Miss Cotton, daughter of Kew's Herbarium Keeper Arthur Cotton, sitting on a Victoria amazonica waterlily, 1923

Miss Cotton, daughter of Kew's Herbarium Keeper Arthur Cotton, sitting on a Victoria amazonica waterlily, 1923


Santa Cruz waterlilies

Santa Cruz waterlilies (Victoria cruziana) have striking lily pads up to two metres wide, with prickly undersides and wide, upturned rims. The flowers are large and fragrant, but only last for 48 hours. They start out white then darken to pink and purple before sinking beneath the surface of the water.

We often display them in the Waterlily House as the leaves are slightly smaller than Victoria amazonica, but this year you will find specimens in the Princess of Wales Conservatory pond.


Victoria cruziana in bloom

Victoria cruziana in bloom


Gourds

In the autumn our collection of gourds are at their peak. These climbing plants are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with cucumbers, melons and marrows. 

Gourds were one of the earliest fruits to be domesticated by humans.

They have been used for centuries to make cups and bowls, musical instruments and bird-houses. In Neolithic times gourd skins were even used to replace missing portions of skulls during surgery.


Gourd in the Waterlily House

Gourd in the Waterlily House