Giant water lilies recognised with 3 world record status

SANTA CRUZ, 22 Feb 2023:

A recently discovered giant water lily species has grown for just over two decades in a small chunk of eco-paradise in eastern Bolivia created by landscape designer Gaston “Tonchi” Ribero.

Although horticulturists there and elsewhere were long unaware of the new species – known as Victoria boliviana – that massive plant has recently gained fame in botanical circles and even given the country three Guinness world records.

Prior to being catalogued as a new species, this giant water lily native to the Llanos de Moxos – a tropical savanna ecoregion of northern Bolivia’s Beni Department – had been growing in Bolivia’s National Herbarium for decades and at London’s Kew Gardens for nearly two centuries.

With lily pads reaching up to 3.2m (10.5 feet) in width and a surface area of 7.55 sqm (81.3 sq ft), the Victoria boliviana specimen responsible for these world records has grown since 2012 at the La Rinconada ecological park, located just outside the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

Ilani Ribero, Tonchi’s daughter, said two of the records belong specifically to La Rinconada: largest water lily pad on record and largest undivided leaf of any plant recorded to date.

A third world record – for world’s largest aquatic plant – was awarded to Bolivia.

The giant water lilies at La Rinconada, whose extremely large red-rimmed green leaves lie flat on the water’s surface, are found at an impressive artificial lake inhabited by colourful koi fish.

The plants’ intense green and red tones, the blue sky’s reflection in the lake and the occasional orange of a koi rising to the surface of the water make up a landscape worthy of a Claude Monet painting.

The ecopark was established in 1999 by initiative of Ribero, who became enamoured by these plants on a trip to Beni department 40 years ago and wanted to create a space in Santa Cruz where more people could “admire them up close,” Ilani explained.

After the artificial lake was built, the next task was to transfer the water lilies, which “are everywhere” in Beni, she said.

A total of 26 of these giant plants were relocated in a process in which they were kept “well covered, wet, maintaining the mud where they put down roots.”

Even so, only the smallest plant of the group survived, although that was sufficient for pollination to occur and eventually for numerous giant water lilies to populate La Rinconada.

The water lily leaves emerge every year at the end of October, initially measuring just 2-3cm in diameter, explained Ilani, who said that between December and February the pads grow to their giant size.

The Victoria boliviana belongs to the family Nymphaeaceae and the genus Victoria, named in the first half of the 19th century after Queen Victoria of the UK.

But the boliviana variant of the giant water lilies, previously mistaken for the Victoria amazonica, was not officially identified until 2022 thanks to the work of a team led by Kew Gardens senior horticulturist Carlos Magdalena.

Its name pays tribute to the Bolivian people and to the place where that species of giant water lily grows in South America – the aquatic ecosystems of the Llanos de Moxos.

The pads of the other two giant water lily species – Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana – grow to 2.3m and 2.4m in width, respectively.

“Hardly puny by any stretch of the imagination, but nevertheless some way short of their exclusively Bolivian relative,” the Guinness World Records said in an article late last month dedicated to Victoria boliviana.