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Botanical Buzz - Water Lily

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The serene and transcendent beauty of the water lily may be observed in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Water lilies belong to the ancient family Nymphaeaceae, named after the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology. Its fossil records extend back to the Cretaceous period, the time of dinosaurs.

The Nymphaeaceae are aquatic, rhizomatous herbs usually pollinated by beetles. The family includes the genus Nymphaea which contains roughly 35 species in the Northern Hemisphere, and the genus Victoria which contains two species of giant water lilies endemic to South America.

Nymphaea caerulea (blue Egyptian lotus) and Nymphaea lotus (white Egyptian lotus) were considered extremely significant in Egyptian mythology and often appear in ancient Egyptian art. Ornaments of both blue and white lotuses were found with the mummy of Rameses ll.

To this day, water lilies continue to make an impression on the human psyche. They famously feature in the works of the founder of French impressionist painting, Claude Monet (1840 –1926). Water lilies have also been chosen as national floral emblems. Nymphaea lotus is the floral emblem of Egypt and Nymphaea nouchali  (also known as Nymphaea stellata) is the floral emblem of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The Victoria amazonica is the largest water lily in the world and one of the most fascinating. Its circular leaves grow up to 3 metres in diameter and its flowers have an intriguing pollination strategy which involves changing gender.

When the nocturnal flowers open for the first time they are white, female and emit a strong pineapple-like scent. This attracts the scarab beetle pollinator.  As daybreak approaches, the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside. By the time the flower opens again on the second night it has changed its colour to pink and its sex to male. The beetle emerges covered with new pollen ready to seek out another white, fragrant, receptive water lily.
                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan