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Exotic Beauty: Giant Waterlily Insights & Cultivation Guide

The Giant Waterlily, belonging to the family of Nymphaeaceae, is indigenous to the tropical regions of South America, primarily found in countries like Brazil and Bolivia. It thrives in environments that are warm, humid, and abundant in sunlight, with optimal growth temperatures ranging from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. Below 20 degrees, the plant’s growth […]

The Giant Waterlily, belonging to the family of Nymphaeaceae, is indigenous to the tropical regions of South America, primarily found in countries like Brazil and Bolivia. It thrives in environments that are warm, humid, and abundant in sunlight, with optimal growth temperatures ranging from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius.

Below 20 degrees, the plant’s growth stalls. Renowned as a tropical aquatic garden attraction, this species boasts the largest leaf among all aquatic plants, with a diameter exceeding 3 meters. Its leaves are glossy and curly at the edges, resembling large emerald dishes floating on water.

Growth and Distribution

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

Growth Environment

As a quintessential tropical plant, the Giant Waterlily prefers high temperatures and humidity, demonstrating poor tolerance to the cold. Growth comes to a standstill when temperatures drop to 20℃, with cold damage occurring at around 14℃, and death due to freezing at about 8℃.

Under normal conditions in Xishuangbanna, the plant can overwinter outdoors, bearing seeds capable of propagation. However, cold years can bring frost damage. In areas north of the Tropic of Cancer, even in warmer years, the plants cannot overwinter outdoors and must instead survive the winter in specially designed greenhouses.

Distribution Range

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

The Giant Waterlily is native to the tropical waters of South America, including northeastern Argentina, Bolivia, northern and central-western Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Paraguay, and Peru. It has been introduced to Bangladesh and Vietnam.

The plant naturally inhabits riversides and lakeside waters. It has now been introduced to major botanical gardens and parks worldwide, becoming a universal aquatic feature.

Morphology and Characteristics

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

The Giant Waterlily holds the record for the largest leaves among flowering aquatic plants. Its nascent leaves are needle-shaped, turning spear-shaped when 2-3 leaves grow, trident-shaped at 4-5 leaves, and fully expanding into an elliptical or circular shape at 6-7 leaves.

Beyond the 11th leaf, the margins start to curl upwards, forming a dish-like structure. These round, disc-like leaves float on the water surface, reaching diameters over 2 meters. The leaf surface is smooth, slightly reddish-green with wrinkles. The undersides are a deep purple, with green leaf stalks reaching 2-4 meters in length. The leaf’s underside and stalks have numerous hard spikes, and its veins radiate net-like.

The Giant Waterlily’s enormous leaves not only captivate onlookers but also astonish with their load-bearing capacity. A large leaf can support up to 70 kg due to its large air-filled cavities in the leaf blade and veins, keeping it afloat. The sturdy veins on the underside form an intersecting grid, each square over 10 cm high, facilitating leaf expansion, enhancing drainage, and increasing load capacity.

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

The Giant Waterlily has large flowers, solitary, with a diameter of 25-40 cm. It has 4 sepals in a green-brown shade, ovate-triangular, entirely covered with thorns; the petals are numerous, oblong-ovate, 10-22 cm long. The flower has multiple stamens, flattened filaments, 8-10 mm long; and the lower part of the ovary is densely covered with coarse spikes.

The flowering period is in summer or autumn, with flowers emerging from the water and emitting a pleasant fragrance in the evening. The flowers are white on the first day, with a scent similar to gardenia. The petals close gradually on the second day, reopening in the evening, turning from pale red to deep red, and on the third day, they close again and sink underwater.

The Giant Waterlily bears fruit around September, and the berries are spherical, with black seeds. When the fruit is ripe, it contains 300-500 seeds, with some reaching up to 700. The seeds are about the size of lotus seeds, rich in starch, and edible; locals refer to them as “water corn.”

Named after Queen Victoria of Britain, the Giant Waterlily seems to possess a regal aura. This is not just because it occupies vast aquatic areas in its native tropical American waters but also due to its uniquely large, beautiful circular leaves.

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

In many botanical gardens where the Giant Waterlily is cultivated, it is often the summer centerpiece. Its leaves provide ornamental value from the end of May to mid-November, lasting half a year. Its flowers undergo three transformations over a general blooming period of three days, with different colors each day.

The flowers emerge above the water, open in the evening of the first day in white with a sweet fragrance, turn pink on the second day, and deep purple on the third day. Then they close, wilt, and sink underwater, with seeds maturing in the water. Because of these unique characteristics, the Giant Waterlily is often referred to as the “capricious goddess.”

Habitual Behavior

Learn About the Giant Waterlily: Basics, Types, Growth & Care, Value and More

The Giant Waterlily is a typical tropical plant, fond of high temperatures and humidity. It has very poor cold resistance, and growth stalls when the temperature drops to 20°C. Cold damage occurs at around 14°C, and it dies of cold exposure at around 8°C.

During typical years in Xishuangbanna, the lily can winter outdoors and produce seeds, which can propagate offspring, but in particularly cold years, frost damage can occur. In most regions north of the Tropic of Cancer, even during warmer years, they cannot winter outdoors and must be wintered in specially constructed greenhouses.

The Giant Waterlily thrives in fertile, deep mud, but does not prefer overly deep water. The mud in a cultivation pond should be more than 50 cm deep, and water depth should not exceed 1 meter. Full barnyard manure or cake fertilizer should be applied during planting, followed by topdressing one to two times during the leaf and flowering period. Fertilization should cease after fall. The Giant Waterlily loves light, and the surface of the cultivation water should have ample sunlight. The key to artificial cultivation is winter cold protection.

In southern Hainan Province, the lily can safely winter outdoors. In tropical areas of the mainland like Xishuangbanna and Leizhou Peninsula, simple cold protection is needed for outdoor wintering in most years. For the rest of the vast South China region, natural water surfaces are unsuitable for cultivation. They should only be planted in artificially constructed ponds.

In winter, the surface of the pond should be covered with double-layer film, equipped with a water-changing device. On sunny nights, warm water should be replaced once; on cloudy and rainy days, the water should be replaced two to three times every day and night to maintain both air and water temperature in the pond above 18°C.

In the northern part of South China, up to the Central and North China region, cultivation ponds need to be built in dedicated greenhouses, keeping both air and water temperatures around 20°C in winter.

The leaves of the Giant Waterlily are dotted with small holes, and there are two notches at the edge of the leaves. During heavy rain, water can quickly drain from these small holes and notches, keeping the leaves dry and preventing rot caused by water accumulation on the leaves. This also prevents the growth of fungi and algae, ensuring photosynthesis isn’t impacted.

The flowers of the Giant Waterlily grow singly and are enormous. They bloom for three days, constantly changing color, opening in the morning and evening and closing at noon. The temperature at the heart of the flower is about 10°C higher than the surrounding air.

On the first evening, newly opened white flowers emit a pineapple scent, powerfully attracting beetles in the water. The nectar and starchy substances in the petals make the beetles overlook the slowly closing flower and are thus kept inside overnight. Not until the second evening does the flower reopen, magically changing to pink and losing its scent.

At this point, the pollen released from the stamens covers the beetles, which carry the pollen to another newly opened Giant Waterlily flower to feed, thereby assisting the flower with pollination. By the third morning, the flower turns red, wilts, and sinks into the water. The flowers of the Giant Waterlily exhibit a characteristic called protogyny, which means the female organs mature before the male organs. Through this mechanism, the Giant Waterlily cleverly avoids self-pollination.

Cultivation Methods

Seedling Cultivation

After the initial sprouting of seedlings, about 20 days later, when they have two leaves and 3-5 roots, they can be transplanted into pots for further cultivation. Seedlings that sprout first are transplanted first, typically into small pots with a diameter of about 10 centimeters, filled with fine soil and a little sand, not overly full, one plant per pot.

The depth of planting should be such that the seed shell is slightly above the soil surface. Place the pot in warm water, allowing the leaves to float on the surface. The entire process should not be overly long as seedlings can die within five hours of being out of water. After potting, the seedlings produce a new leaf every 4-5 days on average, and root growth is quite rapid.

When the roots protrude from the pot, re-transplantation is necessary. Choose a pot with a diameter of 30-40 centimeters, using about 2kg of hoof pieces, some cake fertilizer and animal manure as base fertilizer, mixed with pond mud. During transplantation, the soil-clinging seedling should be inverted into the pot, maintaining the water level around 10 centimeters.

Planting

When the open-air pond water temperature exceeds 18℃, transplantation can occur. As the Giant Waterlily is a sun-loving aquatic plant, the pond should be sunny and sheltered from the wind to ensure adequate light for the lily pond, thus raising the water temperature. There are two ways to transplant. One is direct transplantation into the pond, typically one Giant Waterlily occupying about 30 square meters of the pond.

Before transplantation, the pond water must be drained, the pond cleaned, irrigation equipment installed, and water level controlled. The other method is indirect transplantation, first planting the seedling in a pot, then placing the pot in the pond.

Regarding soil selection, the Giant Waterlily prefers mildly acidic to neutral fertile soil, requiring 1.5-2 cubic meters of soil per plant. Before entering the pond, sufficient base fertilizer must be applied, preferably green manure.

Planting in pots can cause poor nutrition, affecting leaf and flower growth. When applying base fertilizer, mix an appropriate amount of pond mud, compound fertilizer, and about 3kg of hoof pieces, adding some manure and cake, which also loosens the soil.

Transplant the seedling with soil into the pond and pot, planting depth should be such that the seedling-soil is level with the surrounding soil surface. Then cover it with 2-3 centimeters of fine sand, maintaining a water level 10-15 centimeters above the soil.

Management

From the seedling stage, the Giant Waterlily goes through a period of nutrient growth and flowering and fruiting. The nutrient growth period includes the seedling stage and rapid growth stage, which are crucial for the growth of the Giant Waterlily and require careful management.

At the same time as planting, prepare to cover with a film. Initially, seedlings are not highly adaptable in open ground, and the temperature difference between day and night can cause leaf rot in case of overcast or rainy weather. Therefore, the film should be opened during the day and covered during rainy days or at night, continuing until mid-June.

Topdressing

After planting, during the remaining 25 days or so of the seedling stage, topdressing should be applied every 10 days, mainly compound fertilizer. When it reaches the rapid growth stage, the daily leaf diameter increases by 20 centimeters on average, with a new leaf every 3-4 days, and topdressing should be applied every 5 days.

After flowering, due to hot weather and high temperatures, plant growth is vigorous and the flowering rate is high. When applying fertilizer, a small hole in the film bag containing about 20 grams of quick-acting phosphate fertilizer can be buried not far from the plant, about 10 centimeters deep in the mud, changing the position each time to benefit balanced root development.

Cultivation Methods

Seedling Cultivation

Once germinated, seedlings approximately 20 days old, boasting two leaves and 3-5 roots, are ready for potting. The quickest sprouts are potted first, typically in small 10-centimeter diameter pots filled with fine soil and a small amount of sand. These should not be overfilled, accommodating one plant per pot.

The planting depth should be such that the seed casing is slightly above the soil surface. The leaves are placed in warm water to float on the surface. The entire process shouldn’t be too long as seedlings die if away from water for over 5 hours.

After potting, the seedlings generally sprout a new leaf every 4-5 days and the root system grows rapidly. Once roots extend beyond the small pot, repotting is required. A 30-40 centimeter diameter pot filled with approximately 2 kilograms of hoof pieces and some cake fertilizer and manure, mixed with pond mud, will suffice. During the transplant, the seedling should be transferred with the soil, maintaining a uniform soil level within the pot. The water level should be kept around 10 centimeters.

Planting

Transplantation can commence when the outdoor pool’s water temperature exceeds 18°C. As the Giant Water Lily is a heliophilous aquatic plant, the pool should be located where it can receive ample sunlight and is shielded from wind to maintain a warm water temperature.

Two methods of transplantation exist. One is to transplant directly into the pond where typically, one whole Giant Water Lily plant will occupy approximately 30 square meters of the pond. Prior to transplantation, the pond water must be drained, the pond cleaned, and irrigation equipment installed to control the water level. The other method is indirect transplantation, where the seedlings are initially planted in a vat, which is then placed into the pond.

The choice of soil is crucial. The Giant Water Lily prefers slightly acidic to neutral, fertile soil, with each plant requiring 1.5-2 cubic meters. Prior to pond entry, adequate base fertilizer, preferably green manure, must be applied.

Planting in vats can cause malnutrition, affecting leaf and flower growth. When applying base fertilizer, mix an appropriate amount of pond mud, compound fertilizer, and about 3 kilograms of hoof pieces with some manure to help aerate the soil.

The seedlings, with their soil, should be transplanted into both the pond and vat such that the depth aligns with the outer soil surface. Cover with 2-3 centimeters of fine sand and maintain a water level about 10-15 centimeters above the soil.

Maintenance

The growth of the Giant Water Lily includes a period of nutritional growth and a flowering and fruiting period. The nutritional growth period consists of the seedling stage and rapid growth stage, which are important phases requiring precise management.

During planting, preparation for covering with a film should be made. Initially, seedlings show weak adaptability in outdoor conditions, especially in large day-night temperature differences. In case of rain or shade, leaves might rot. Thus, the film should be opened on sunny days and closed on rainy or shady days, continuing until mid-June.

Top Dressing

After planting, approximately 25 days remain in the seedling stage. During this time, top dressing should occur every 10 days, primarily using compound fertilizer. When it enters the rapid growth phase, the daily increase in leaf diameter reaches 20 centimeters, and a new leaf sprouts every 3-4 days. At this point, top dressing should occur every 5 days.

After flowering, due to the hot weather and high temperatures, plant growth is vigorous and the flowering rate is high. When fertilizing, approximately 20 grams of quick-acting phosphorus fertilizer can be placed in a small perforated plastic bag and buried not far from the right place, about 10 centimeters deep in the mud. The position should be changed with each top dressing to promote balanced root development.

Water Level

The water depth is closely related to the development of the Giant Water Lily. As a shallow-water aquatic plant, the water level should generally not exceed 0.4 meters above the top of the plant’s stem, and the water level fluctuation should be controlled within 0.3 meters. The water level should be higher on sunny days and lower on cloudy ones. After transplantation, the water level should be adjusted according to the growth condition of the seedlings.

Sunlight

In spring, when cultivating in a greenhouse, if sunlight is insufficient, a 100-watt light bulb can be installed 1.5 meters above the seedlings to increase light intensity and duration. In the pond, it’s necessary to frequently remove aquatic plants that entangle the leaves and flowers of the Giant Water Lily, such as algae, duckweed, and water fluff. Prune decaying leaves on the plant regularly to keep the water clean and free up space for new leaf growth.

Storage

After the Giant Water Lily flowers, the young fruits retract underwater to develop, generally maturing in 40-50 days. Upon maturity, the fruit cracks open and the seeds disperse. For easier seed collection, encase the fruit in a nylon bag before it cracks open, then harvest the bag once mature.

Giant Water Lily seeds quickly lose their germination ability after leaving the water, so wet storage methods are crucial. There are two common methods. The first is mud storage: mix pond mud with water and seeds in a sealed jar, and store in a greenhouse or at the bottom of the pond. This method results in a germination rate of over 60%.

The second is clear water storage: submerge the seeds in a jar of water kept at 10-15°C, changing the water daily. This method can achieve a germination rate of up to 80% the following planting season.

Propagation Methods

Division

Timing for Division

Division is best performed after the soil thaws in early spring. Remove the mother plant from the pot, shaking off excess potting soil, and separate the intertwined root system as much as possible. Divide it into two or more plants using a sharp knife, ensuring each new plant has a significant root system.

Trim its leaves appropriately to facilitate survival. After dividing the plant, soak it in 1500 times diluted fungicide for five minutes, then let it dry before potting. The roots can also be watered with fungicide immediately after potting.

Water thoroughly after division and potting. Since the root system suffers significant damage, its water absorption is weak and it will take approximately 3-4 weeks to recover and sprout new roots. Therefore, water should be limited for the first 3-4 weeks after division to avoid root rot.

However, the evaporation from the leaves is unaffected. To maintain leaf water balance, mist the leaves 1-3 times daily. During this time, avoid fertilizing. After division, strong sunlight should be avoided, and the plants should be nurtured in a shaded area.

English Translation

Water Level

The water depth is closely related to the development of Victoria amazonica. The Victoria amazonica is a shallow-water aquatic plant, and the water level should not exceed 0.4m above the top of the plant stem. The water level change should also be controlled within 0.3m. More water should be given on sunny days and less on cloudy days. During the seedling stage after transplantation, the water level should be adjusted according to the growth status of the seedlings.

Light

In the spring, when cultivating in a greenhouse, if the sunlight is not sufficient, a 100w light can be installed 1.5 meters above the seedlings to increase the light intensity and duration. In the pool, aquatic plants such as moss, water fleece, and duckweed that entangle the leaves and flowers of the Victoria amazonica should be removed regularly. Decayed old leaves on the plant should be cut off at any time to keep the pond water clean and leave space on the water surface for new leaves to grow.

Storage

After the Victoria amazonica blooms, the young fruit retracts into the water to develop, usually maturing in 40-50 days. After maturing, the fruit skin splits, and the seeds escape and disperse. To facilitate seed collection, a nylon bag should be used to enclose the fruit before it cracks, and the bag should be harvested after maturation.

Victoria amazonica seeds quickly lose their ability to germinate after leaving the water. Therefore, they must be stored using the wet storage method. There are two commonly used methods: one is the mud storage method, where pond mud is mixed with water and seeds, sealed in a bottle, and placed under a greenhouse or at the bottom of a pond.

The germination rate of seeds stored in this way is over 60%. The other is the clear water storage method, where seeds are placed in a bottle, submerged in water, and placed in a thermostatic bottle with a temperature of 10-15℃. The water is changed daily, and the seeds are sown the following year. The germination rate can reach 80%.

Propagation Methods

Division

Timing for Division

The best time for division is after the soil thaws in early spring. The mother plant is taken out of the flower pot, excess potting soil is shaken off, and the entangled roots are divided as much as possible. A sharp knife is used to split it into two or more plants. Each divided plant should have a considerable root system, and the leaves should be appropriately pruned to facilitate survival.

After soaking the divided plant in a 1500 times diluted solution of carbendazim for five minutes, it is taken out and dried before being potted. Alternatively, the roots can be irrigated with carbendazim immediately after potting.

After dividing and potting, the roots should be irrigated or watered thoroughly. As the roots have been greatly damaged and the water absorption ability is very weak, it takes about 3-4 weeks to recover and grow new roots. Therefore, watering should be moderated for 3-4 weeks after division to avoid root rot. However, the transpiration of the leaves has not been affected.

To maintain the moisture balance of the leaves, they should be sprayed 1-3 times daily. Fertilizer should not be applied during this period. After division, be aware of strong sunlight and keep the plants in a shade shed for maintenance.

Bulb Division

Some flowers have underground parts such as bulbs or tubers, which grow new small bulbs around them after a year underground. These small bulbs can be divided and planted, which is simple and easy to manage. Just be careful not to plant the small bulbs too deep during planting; the thickness of the covering soil should not exceed twice the diameter of the bulb.

Temperature Management

As it is native to temperate or warm temperate regions, its temperature requirements are not strict. As long as it does not go below 0℃, it can safely overwinter; as long as it does not exceed 33℃, it can smoothly get through the summer. The most suitable growth temperature is 15-30℃.

Light Management

It needs abundant direct sunlight to grow normally. If the light is insufficient, or if it is kept in a shaded environment, the leaves will grow thin and yellow, the branches or leaf stalks will be slender, the internodes will elongate, and the plants will be in a state of overgrowth. The petals will be small, the flower color will be light, or the flowers will not bloom at all.

Pest Control

  • Spodoptera litura: The peak period of damage is in late July and mid-to-late August. The larvae feed on the curled leaf edges. Use 1000 times diluted Decis or Deltamethrin for spraying.
  • Aphis gossypii: The damage period is from August to October. Nymphs and adults gather on the leaf surface and leaf edges, sucking sap. Use 1000 times 40% Lebaycid or 2000 times Deltamethrin for control. The latter is harmful to fish; 70% Metasystox emulsifiable powder 200 times liquid or 3% Rotenone 800-1000 times liquid can also be used for spraying.
  • Radix auricularia and Planorbis: The damage period is from early June to mid-to-late August, with the peak period of damage in late June. They mainly damage the emergent leaves, mostly attached to the back of the leaves, gnawing the leaf flesh to form holes of varying sizes. The damage to young leaves is more severe than that to old leaves. Control methods: ① Manual collection or baiting with watermelon peels ② Release bluegill sunfish for predation ③ Before planting, drain the pond water, and apply furanidan powder on the mud surface for poisoning.
  • To prevent fish damage: Except for goldfish, most fish can damage young leaves and young roots, especially grass carp and carp. They can be protected for about a month using reeds, bamboo curtains, lead wire, or nylon nets. Covering the soil surface with a layer of river sand or pebbles can also protect the seedlings.

Value and Other Aspects

Main Value

Victoria amazonica is known for its gigantic leaves and beautiful, aromatic flowers. The leaf-viewing period lasts for 150 days, and the flower-viewing period lasts for 90 days. If Victoria amazonica is combined with other aquatic plants like lotus and water lilies, it will create a unique aquatic landscape that is unforgettable.

Today, Victoria amazonica has become an indispensable ornamental plant in modern garden water landscapes, and it is also a precious flower that must be included in urban flower exhibitions.

It not only has high ornamental value but can also purify water bodies. Small water pools in homes can also be planted with large single plants with multiple leaf pads. The effect of solitary planting in small water bodies is good. In large water bodies, multiple plants form a group, which is magnificent. Different environments can choose to plant different varieties of Victoria amazonica.

For example, the Cruz Victoria amazonica has a smaller plant shape and emerald green leaves, suitable for courtyard viewing. The Amazonian Victoria amazonica has a larger plant shape and is more suitable for cultivation in large water bodies.

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Peggie

Peggie

Founder of FlowersLib

Peggie was once a high school mathematics teacher, but she set aside her chalkboard and textbooks to follow her lifelong passion for flowers. After years of dedication and learning, she not only established a thriving flower shop but also founded this blog, “Flowers Library”. If you have any questions or wish to learn more about flowers, feel free to contact Peggie.

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