Waterlily House

Surround yourself with colourful waterlilies, ferns, papyrus and hanging gourds in this tropical corner of Kew.

Purple waterlilies in the Waterlily House pond

The Waterlily House is now closed for winter and will reopen in spring 2020.

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 striking Santa Cruz waterlilies (Victoria cruziana). Their lily pads grow 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. 

Our collection of gourds is at its peak in autumn. From bottle green to dusky orange, these climbing plants trail 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 amazonica in honour of Queen Victoria. They inspired curiosity and awe, popular for their wide floating lily pads. The leaves grow so vast they have been photographed with babies and toddlers sitting on top.

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 now closed for winter and will reopen in spring 2020.

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

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