This new species of water lily first appeared in the mid-19th century, and is a giant water lily with leaves up to 3 meters in diameter. The world’s largest water lily was discovered after being mistaken for another species for 177 years, according to NBC News.
The leaves of the giant water lily, one of three species in the Victoria family, can withstand a weight of at least 80 kg.
A group of scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, UK revealed this latest discovery in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.
Specifically, the giant water lily species is named Victoria boliviana, in honor of Bolivia as well as its South American origin.
It has leaves that can grow up to 3 meters wide, weighing as much as an adult human. However, due to a lack of research on giant water lily species, the research team took many years to confirm that they had been present at Kew for a long time.
The first Victoria water lily species were brought to England from Bolivia and belonged to the genus named after Queen Victoria in 1852. Previously, scientists believed that this water lily species only had two subgenera, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana. But now, at least one more species has been identified living in the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
By correcting this identity confusion, experts have been able to more accurately record the diversity of water lilies, enhancing the protection and sustainable development of this plant species.
Alex Monro, head of the research team in the Americas, hopes that this study will inspire other scientists in the effort to identify new plant species.
He said: “Given the rapid pace of biodiversity loss, identifying new species is a fundamental and critically important task.”
Gardener Carlos Magdalena, an international expert on water lilies and also the head of the research team, believes that there is a third surviving species. He proved his point when he received a collection of giant water lily seeds from the Santa Cruz de La Sierra Botanic Garden and La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia in 2016.
When Magdalena planted the seeds and grew them alongside the other two Victoria species at Kew, he knew he had made a unique discovery.
Lucy Smith, an experienced botanical artist who draws water lily leaves, was invited to illustrate Magdalena’s different water lily species.
She captured flowers that can grow larger than a soccer ball, changing between white and pink, and only blooming at night. Lily said she recognized the unique difference of the V. boliviana species, as they have leaves that are too large, even visible on satellite images.
“I help scientists describe new plant species every year, not all of which are as large and captivating as the new Victoria species. However, every plant species in an ecosystem plays an important role,” she said.
“In fact, we can use the largest and most attractive plant species to demonstrate that there are many other species out there that have not yet been discovered and studied by science,” she shared.