Giant waterlilies in the wild
The botanical explorer Richard Spruce (1817-93) had his first encounter with the giant waterlily (Victoria amazonica) in South America, where it grows in the backwaters of rivers in the Amazon basin, the Guianas and the Mato Grosso in Brazil. Its circular leaves, with their upturned rims, are anchored by long stalks rising from an underground stem buried in the mud of the river bottom. The leaves first appear as spiny buds but expand rapidly up to half a square metre a day. Their upper surface has a rather quilted appearance and a waxy layer that repels water. The purplish red undersurface is covered by a network of ribs clad in abundant sharp spines, possibly as a defence against herbivorous fishes and manatees. Air trapped in the spaces between the ribs enables the leaves to float - they are so buoyant that they can easily support the weight of a small child. Each plant produces some 40-50 leaves per season which cover the water surface and exclude light, thus restricting the growth of most other plants.
More about giant waterlilies
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Victoria species
External site: www.victoria-adventure.org