For the first time in 177 years, scientists have discovered a new waterlily species at Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Interestingly, the enormous waterlily - that has been hidden in plain sight for over a century - was mistakenly identified as another species.
The giant waterlily was previously confused forVictoria amazonica, the waterlily named after England's Queen Victoria in 1837.
According to the Royal Botanic Gardens, a group of world-class scientists in Science, Horticulture, and Botanical Art has scientifically demonstrated in the journalFrontiers in Plant Science that Victoria boliviana is a fresh species to science due to novel data and their unique combination of expertise.
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In the wild, V. boliviana is the world's largest waterlily, reaching three meters (10 feet) tall! That's about one-third the length of a London bus.
The oldest plant in Bolivia is known as La Rinconada Gardens, where the leaves reached 3.2 meters.
The species was grown in a glasshouse.
The tree is native to Bolivia, where it grows in the Beni region, one of the world's largest wetlands. Flowers only open in pairs, one at a time, and only for two nights - turning from white to pink and covered with sharp prickles.
Carlos Magdalena, a world-renowned waterlilies expert and one of Kew's senior botanical horticulturists, along with his team Lucy Smith, a freelance Kew botanical artist, and Natalia Przelomska, a biodiversity genomics researcher, had long suspected that the plant was different from the other two known giant species,Victoria amazonica andVictoria cruziana.
"I was convinced that this plant was a new species from the start."Magdalena said in a press release.
"For almost two decades, I have been searching every single web page of wild Victoria waterlilies, a luxury that a botanist from the 18th, 19th, and most of the 20th century did not have."
After contacting Kew, Bolivian scientists - from the National Herbarium of Bolivia, Santa Cruz Botanic Gardens, and Public Botanic Garden La Rinconada - donated seeds.
A breathtaking discovery
Magdalena noticed the waterlily grow next to the two otherVictoriaspecies and immediately suspected something was different. He noticed thatVictoria bolivianahad a different seed shape and distribution than other members of theVictoriagenus, making it distinct.
"It meant we could grow it side-by-side with the two other plants in exactly the same conditions." Once we did this, we could see that every single part of the plant was completely different."
Although 2,000 new plant species are identified each year, it is quite unusual that a plant this large was only discovered recently.
"It also highlights how many things may be out there. It really highlights how little we know at the end about our natural world," Magdalena toldAFP.
Smith, who illustrated scientific illustrations for all three species, told the BBC that she had to go into the glasshouse at night because waterlily flowers only came out in the dark. "I was able to get access to the flowers, and also by looking at the leaves, I could, as an illustrator, highlight those differences," she said.
"And while I was drawing these differences, they became even more evident in my head, and I found new methods of tying them apart. Maybe im biased, but out of the three species, I think [the new species] has one of the most beautiful flowers," she added.
A lack of information has resulted in inaccurate identification.
The waterlily was mislabeled due to a lack of data. In 1832,V. amazonica was the first species to be named in the genus, but the data available was inadequate, resulting in a lack of comparisons against any new species discovered since.
The authors of this paper sought out historical records, citizen research (including social media posts), and specimens from Herbaria and living collections throughout the world. DNA analyses also revealed that V. boliviana is quite different from the other two species.
The collected data supported what the authors had long suspected of a new species in theVictoriagenus, joiningV. amazonicaandV. cruziana.
"Description of new species is of vital importance in the face of a rapid decline in biodiversity," says Przelomska. "We hope that our multidisciplinary approach will inspire other researchers who are looking for approaches to swiftly and robustly identify new species.
The authors of the paper chose the name Vittoria boliviana "in recognition of Bolivian partners and the South American origin of the waterlily that flourishes in the aquatic ecosystems of Llanos de Moxos."
Abstract:To protect and sustainably benefit from plant diversity, we are relying on a heuristic, iterative approach to delimit and document species in the South American genus Victoria (Nymphaeaceae). Three of these entities are supported by nuclear population genomic and plastid genomic inferences, while the third is new to science, V. boliviana Magdalena and L. T. Sm.