Waterlily House

Surround yourself with colourful waterlilies, sprawling climbers, and an array of other colourful plants in this tropical corner of Kew.

Purple waterlilies in the Waterlily House pond

The Waterlily House is closed for seasonal maintenance and will open later in spring 2024. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

This small, square glasshouse was designed specifically to showcase the giant Amazon waterlily (Victoria amazonica) - a natural wonder of the age.

It was completed in 1852 and is now a listed building, brimming with aquatic plants and tropical fruit.  

Its circular pond spans over 10 metres. We use fish and dye the water black (using a harmless food dye) to stop algae growth. It also makes prettier reflections!   

Among the treasures of the Waterlily House you’ll find the record-breaking giant Victoria boliviana. It was named as a new species by a team from Kew in 2022. Their lily pads grow up to three 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 for the second night they are open, before sinking beneath the surface of the water. 

Our collection of brightly coloured flowering climbers trails the ceiling of the glasshouse, enhancing an environment that is teeming with life at every angle.

The story of our giant waterlilies  

Giant waterlilies were discovered in Bolivia in 1801 and later named Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria. They inspired curiosity and awe, popular for their wide floating lily pads. The leaves grow so vast they can support the weight of an adult, with some help – but please don’t try this at Kew.

In the mid-19th century, a specimen of Kew’s Victoria was sent to architect Joseph Paxton. 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. 

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

In the wild, Victoria is a short-lived perennial (meaning it can live for more than two years) and is pollinated by a beetle (Cylocephata castaneal) attracted to its 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. 

Visiting the Waterlily House 

The Waterlily House is currently closed for seasonal maintenance.

We may occasionally need to close attractions for maintenance or visitor safety: Check for planned closures and visitor notices before you visit. 

Discover more of Kew

Browse our online shop

Did you know?