The giant water lily hiding in plain sight at Kew is a brand new species

Botanical Artist Lucy Smith (L) and Scientific and Botanical Research Gardener Carlos Magdalena (R) of Kew Gardens pose for photos with the ‘Victoria Boliviana’. (Image credit: Getty)

A giant water lily kept at Kew’s Botanic Gardens for 177 years has been revealed to be a species new to science.

The startling discovery has been called “one of the botanical wonders of the world”.

The famous giant water lily, genus Victoria, was named after Queen Victoria in 1852 and was thought to comprise two distinct species.

But scientists have confirmed that the giant facility at Kew is actually a third type.

It is the first discovery of a new giant water lily in over a century and now holds the record for the world’s largest.


A general view of ‘Victoria Boliviana’, a new botanical discovery, at Kew Gardens. (Image credit: Getty)

The plant was named V Boliviana in honor of the Bolivian research partners and one of the South American homelands of the water lily, along with the other two species: V cruziana and V amazonica.

Kew Gardens scientist Natalia Przelomska said “in the face of rapid biodiversity loss, characterizing new species is a task of fundamental importance”.

‘We hope that our multidisciplinary framework could inspire other researchers looking for approaches to identify new species quickly and reliably,’ she added.


Although specimens have grown in Kew’s herbarium for 177 years, new evidence has revealed that the water lily is a previously unknown species. (Image credit: Getty)

dr Alex Monro, principal investigator on RBG Kew’s Americas team and senior author of a new article on the discovery, said: “Having this new data for Victoria and identifying a new species in the genus is an incredible feat in botany — right.” Identifying and documenting plant diversity is crucial to protect and sustainably benefit from it.

“Working on this paper was very special because it brings together expertise from so many different fields – horticulture, science and botanical arts – and involved close collaboration with our Bolivian partners.


The Waterlily House in Kew was built to showcase the giant water lily species. (Image credit: Getty)

“Victoria holds a special place in Kew history as it was one of the reasons Kew was saved from closure in the 1830s.

“Having played a role in increasing knowledge of these magnificent and iconic plants has increased the response for Kew partners.”

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Justin Scacco

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