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Five of the world's most wonderful waterlilies

From a haphazard hybrid to a goliath lily pad, Kew’s collection of waterlilies contains some of the most fascinating plants in the Gardens, including some of Kew’s very own cultivar creations! Join us as we delve deeper into the pond and reveal five wonderful waterlilies to see this spring at Kew

1. Nymphaea ‘Kew’s Stowaway Blues’

The accidental creation of Nymphaea ‘Kew’s Stowaway Blues’ resulted when Kew received the tuber of a rare waterlily species native to Australia.  When the waterlily flowered it became clear that it wasn’t the species it was expected to be, leading waterlily expert Carlos Magdalena to suspect a brand new hybrid had been created by chance.

Hybridisation is a crossing between two different species or fertile hybrids. In the case of N. ‘Kew Stowaway Blues’ it is believed that two Australian wild species of waterlily, Nymphaea carpentariae ‘Andre Leu’ and Nymphaea aff. powlathanga ‘Barre Hellquist’ cultivated in the same pond in Queensland, cross-pollinated and produced fertile seeds.

One of these seeds floated away and fell into the pot where a rare waterlily species to be sent to Kew was being cultivated.  It germinated and grew unseen amongst other species forming a stray tuber that, quite by chance, was picked and sent to Kew under an entirely different name.

Luckily for us this ‘stowaway’ plant turned out to be one of the most vibrant and beautiful waterlilies in our collections. 

2. Nymphaea 'Kew's Kabuki'

Nymphaea 'Kew's Kabuki' is another Kew creation. The mother plant, Nymphaea georginae is native to the Georgina River in Northern Australia and the father is Nymphaea colorata from Africa.

This unlikely match has resulted in a beautiful hybrid with the striking red anthers of the father paired with the mother’s pure white petals.

The cultivar name, ‘Kew’s Kabuki’ is a reference to the unusual colouring and its similarities to the elaborate make-up worn by the actors in the classical Japanese Kabuki theatre. 

3. The Santa Cruz waterlily (Victoria cruziana)

The lily pads of Victoria cruziana can grow to a whopping two metres wide. These enormous pads lie flat on the water’s surface and have a distinctively patterned underside bearing a network of prominent veins.

In the wild, Victoria cruziana only grows in the slow-moving, shallow waterways of subtropical South America. Sadly, this habitat is now under threat from climate change and deforestation.

4. Nymphaea carpentariae ‘Andre Leu’

The beautiful Nymphaea carpentariae 'Andre Leu' is native to the temporary lakes of tropical Australia. Created by monsoons, the lakes can completely disappear during the dry season, leaving behind waterlily tubers buried deep in the mud and seeds that can remain dormant for many years.

This lovely lily naturally occurs in a range of different colours, including white, blue, purple and pink! White is the most common colour in the wild but you can see the rare pink variety in the Waterlily House here at Kew.

5. Pygmy Rwanden waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum)

A look at the wonderful waterlilies at Kew wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the smallest waterlily in the world, Nymphaea thermarum. The petite plant forms rosette flowers 10-20cm wide and lily pads that can be as little as 1cm in diameter.

This species can no longer found in the wild and is thought to be one of the world’s rarest plants. It was brought back from the brink of extinction by Kew’s Carlos Magdalena, who carried out multiple trials to determine the conditions which allow it to develop to maturity. You can now see Nymphaea thermarum flourishing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory pond.

You can see all of these wonderful waterlilies now at Kew Gardens.

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