In 2022, the Victoria amazonica, the Giant Water Lily, will have been flowering in the Hortus for 150 years. Come along and meet the Queen of the Hortus.
Origin and history
The Giant Water Lily (Victoria amazonica) is the largest water lily in the world. In 1801 the first European, a German botanist by the name of Haenke, discovered the plant during a boat trip on the Amazon in Bolivia, South America. He noticed the large leaves from afar and thought at first that it was an island. But when he came closer and saw that there were no trees, not even shrubs growing on it, he realised that they were leaves. Big, giant leaves, with flowers: red and white. So big and so beautiful, it is said that he fell to his knees in the canoe and stammered a prayer of thanks in his mother tongue. The queen of South American waters had been discovered.
After this discovery, botanists soon realised that this plant did not belong to the normal water lily genus Nymphaea and created a whole new genus, named after the Queen of England: Victoria regia or 'Royal Victoria'.
In the 1860s the Hortus in Leiden wanted to cultivate the plant. For this purpose a special glasshouse was built on the spot where the pond can now be found. In 1872 the first seeds of Victoria regia (later Victoria amazonica) were sown. In July of that year it flowered for the very first time in the Hortus of Leiden. Now, 150 years later, we still enjoy the unique beauty of this special plant.
Watch a video below in which caretaker and gardener Theo Teske tells more about the plant and its pollination:
Facts and Fables
It is a myth that this plant only flowers once a year; in a good summer it flowers almost every week. What is special is that the flower only opens at the end of the afternoon and only flowers for two nights: the first night white with a delicious pineapple fragrance, the second night pink and odourless. In nature, this is to first attract the beetles that need to pollinate the flower, and then to get them to move to another flower with some pollen. The giant water lily in the Hortus is sown every year in January and planted in February-March: a huge annual.