Monday, May 21, 2012

Queen Victoria's Waterlily

Species name: Victoria amazonica

Common name: Amazon waterlily, Royal waterlily

Location: Dave's Garden -- jeri11

The royal waterlily is native to the Amazon Basin in South America, is the largest waterlily in the world, and is named after Queen Victoria. Since today is Victoria Day in Canada, I figured there would be no better "plant of the day" than this one! Most species of plants can be bred by humans to have two different colours of flowers from the same species, but the two pictures above are actually of the same flower on two different days; the flower actually changes colour on its own. Unfortunately, I've never seen this plant in person so the best I can do are pictures from Dave's Garden from people that have actually seen it.

This plant has an incredible life cycle, being pollinated by only a single species of beetle. The beetle is attracted to the scent of the white flower that opens on the first night, which is often said to be chemically equivalent to the sex chemicals emitted by those beetles. Once the flower senses that there is at least one beetle that has landed on the flower, it closes relatively quickly to trap the beetle inside. The beetle fights to get out of the flower until the next night when the flower re-opens, getting pollen all over itself. On night two, the flower opens again to release the beetle and this time it is a stunning colour of pink. The colour change is also accompanied by a change in the sexual parts of the flower that are active: the flower stops producing pollen and is instead receptive to pollen on the stigmas. If a beetle visits one of these pink flowers after visiting a white flower, cross-pollination occurs.

The flowers aren't the only impressive part of this plant. The leaves are also some of the largest leaves in the plant kingdom, becoming almost 40 cm across and supporting the weight of a small child when mature. On the underside of the leaves are very large, dangerous spines which would seriously injure any animal (human or otherwise) to come in contact with the leaves. As you can imagine, this is a very effective deterrent of herbivores!

Happy Victoria Day!