The Waterlily House - the Amazon brought to Kew


The Waterlily House - the Amazon brought to Kew

A small, square glasshouse was designed specifically at Kew Gardens to showcase the giant Amazon waterlily (Victoria amazonica) - a natural wonder of the age, when it opened in the 1852. It is now a listed building, brimming with aquatic plants and tropical fruit, where you can surround yourself with colourful waterlilies, ferns, papyrus and hanging gourds in this tropical corner of the Gardens.

The circular pond within the glasshouse spans over 10 metres. Among the treasures of the Waterlily House you’ll find striking Santa Cruz waterlilies (Victoria cruziana). Their lily pads grow up to two metres wide, with prickly undersides and wide, upturned rims. The flowers are large and fragrant, but only last for 48 hours. They start out white then darken to pink and purple before sinking beneath the surface of the water. 

The collection of gourds is at its peak in autumn. From bottle green to dusky orange, these climbing plants trail the ceiling of the glasshouse. The pond is stocked with fish, and the water dyed black (using a harmless food dye) to stop algae growth. It also makes prettier reflections!   

Giant waterlilies were discovered in Bolivia in 1801 and later named Victoria amazonica in honour of Queen Victoria. They inspired curiosity and awe, in particular for their wide floating lily pads. The leaves grow so vast they have been photographed with babies and toddlers sitting on top.

In the mid-19th century, a specimen of Kew’s Victoria was sent to architect Joseph Paxton, and the structure of the leaf is said to have inspired his design for the Crystal Palace, which housed the Great Exhibition of 1851. 

In the wild, Victoria is a short-lived perennial pollinated by a beetle (Cylocephata castaneal) attracted to its floral scent. But at Kew, the lily is raised as an annual from seed planted each January, and the flowers hand-pollinated during the summer so the seeds can be collected in the autumn for the following year. 

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