The enormous leaves, which grow to over 2.5 metres across, have a network of protruding ribs on the underside, which give the leaf buoyancy and stability. A mature leaf can support 45 kg, if the load is evenly distributed.
The flowers are large and fragrant, but relatively short-lived, lasting only approximately 48 hours. As each flower matures, it changes colour from white, through pink, to purplish-red, finally sinking below the surface.
It is said that the complex 'architectural' pattern of the vein structure below the leaves provided the inspiration for Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace design in 1851, for the Great Exhibition in London.
The species normally grown at Kew are Victoria amazonica and V.cruziana, and their hybrid, V.‘Longwood’. The giant waterlily that is seasonally on display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory is normally V.'Longwood'. In 1995 the leaves reached record-breaking dimensions when they grew to over 2.5 m in diameter and were registered in the Guinness Book of Records. V.cruziana is normally grown in the Waterlily House.
Kew also raises juvenile Victoria plants to donate to other institutions that do not have facilities to raise them from seed.
You can see Kew's giant waterlilies in the Waterlily House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory.