One of the most spectacular water lilies in the world is the Victoria Amazonica. It is the largest water lily in the world. It is a night blooming water lily with flowers almost one foot across and lily pads exceeding six feet in diameter, all covered by flesh-piercing spikes. It was first observed growing in the Amazon by British explorers in the late 19th Century. They harvested the seeds and transported them to Britain, and using special habitats to replicate its original environment, were able to cultivate this plant and it survived.
Eventually the seeds were acquired by Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and over time, other cultivators acquired the seeds of this very erotic flower, including Hughes Water gardens in Oregon.
The life cycle of the Victoria is unique. It is an annual and grows from new seeds every year. It grows several inches a day, especially the extremely large pads, some reaching more than six feet in diameter and able to support the weight of an adult.
Not only does it only bloom at night, it blooms only one night a year.
But that’s only the beginning … this giant waterlily is bi-sexual. It begins life as a female and after pollination, transforms into a male in less than twenty four hours.
On bloom night, the huge bud emerges and finally opens into a pure white flower, emitting a strong fragrance of pineapple, enhanced and dispersed by an internal temperature which increases by as much as 20° above the surrounding air, cooking its special blend of nectar, sugars, and starch in the process. The warm internal temperature combined with the powerful aroma attracts a specialized scarab beetle, strongly attracted to only pure white and the powerful aroma. On this first night, the flower is effectively a female, receptive to the pollen brought by the beetle, but not yet producing any pollen of its own. The beetle alights on the blooming lily where it remains for the night, attracted by the aroma and the warmth of the flower.
As dawn approaches, the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside, where it remains, foraging on the nectar, and in turn, pollinating the flower and collecting nectar for its trip to the next blooming flower the following night.
On the second night, the flower re-opens as a male, the flower has been pollinated, and the beetle escapes with fresh male pollen in search of another receptive, pure white female Victoria.
But for this particular flower, its life is over. It has turned from a brilliant white to a multi-hued magenta, its fragrance is gone, and it no longer stands above the water; it shrivels and sinks below the surface. It has been pollinated and the newly fertilized offspring will be carried below the surface with the dying flower.