We have discovered the largest species of water lily in the world. It was 177 years in front of our noses

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The one with the giant water lily Bolivian victory maybe it is the botanical discovery craziest in decades. Bazas has for it, of course: it reaches more than three meters, it is so robust that it can support the weight of an adult human, it gives showy flowers and —without a doubt the most shocking of all— has been in view for 177 long years. And not in a remote bend in the Amazon. No. The huge plant was well controlled in Kew Gardensin the heart of the United Kingdom.

And despite everything, we just identified her now.

It has been so because the Bolivian victory it is also the story of a long misunderstanding.

The giant water lily has been recorded in the archives of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and grows in their aquatic collections. The problem is that it was registered incorrectly. For decades, experts believed that their specimens were amazon victoryone of the two species of giant water lily of the genre Victory known, along with V. cruziana. Both were baptized in honor of the queen.

A hidden giant…in plain sight

The first specimens of the genus Victory moved to the UK from Bolivia circa mid-19th century and after examining them the scientists assigned them two labels: there were the amazonian Y cruziana. Now we know, however, that one more species traveled in the boxes from South America, the newly appointed Bolivian victorywhich receives its second name in a nod to the birthplace of the water lily and the Bolivian researchers who have facilitated the discovery.

How did the misunderstanding come to an end after so many years?

There was no Eureka moment or flash of genius in the discovery.

As reported by the BBCthe botanist Carlos Magdalena, world eminence in water lilies and leader of the research team, had long suspected that those gigantic specimens with leaves up to three meters wide did not belong to the species amazonian nor to the cruziana. In his opinion it was something else, a new species that had not yet been identified.

Of course, it is one thing to intuit something and quite another to be able to demonstrate it.

The golden opportunity was given to him by his Bolivian colleagues from the National Herbarium, the Santa Cruz Botanical Garden Y The corner place, who in 2016 donated some seeds from that mysterious giant water lily to Kew. There they germinated, there they were cultivated and there, after following their development step by step and comparing it conscientiously with the amazonian Y cruzianathe experts came to the conclusion that what they had under their noses was a different species.

Before concluding it, the experts thoroughly analyzed the specimens and studied the DNA of the new plants and the two identified species, which helped them to appreciate clear differences between them. The results ended up being published in Magazine Frontiers in Plant Science and suggest that the species Bolivian Y cruziana they may have diverged about a million years ago.

The find is much more than a curiosity. He leaves, in his own way, three great readings.

The first and most striking is that, with its XXL size sheets, the Bolivian victory has become the kind of water lily biggest in the world. The second, as the team acknowledges, is that it shows how much work we still have ahead of us in botany. “Perhaps we can use the larger and more charismatic plants to highlight the fact that there are many species that are not yet known by science and are not understood”, highlights botanical artist Lucy Smith.

Refining our knowledge also gives us better tools for conservation. And that is perhaps the most urgent reading of all. “Faced with the rapid loss of biodiversity, describing new species is a task of fundamental importance”, concludes Natalia Przelomskaof Kew.

Cover image | Picture of Cruzian victory by Raymond Bucko, SJ (Flickr)

The one with the giant water lily Bolivian victory maybe it is the botanical discovery craziest in decades. Bazas has…

The one with the giant water lily Bolivian victory maybe it is the botanical discovery craziest in decades. Bazas has…

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