Giant water lilies make historic return to Birmingham Botanical Gardens

More than 170 years since they first amazed Victorian visitors, regal giant water lilies are set to reclaim their pride of place within the tropical glasshouse at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Horticulturists at the 15-acre Grade II Listed gardens have dedicated the last four months to painstakingly germinating seeds from the renowned Victoria cruziana, heralding a remarkable return to the historic site.

The majestic giant water lilies, with their enormous lily pads that can reach up to two meters in diameter, were once a beloved attraction at the Gardens, leaving visitors awe-struck by their sheer beauty and size.

“The Tropical Glasshouse, formerly known as the Lily House, was built in 1852 with an original design featuring a purpose-built pond to showcase the breathtaking giant water lily,” said Director of Horticulture Emily Hazell.

“This botanical marvel remained a beloved feature in the Gardens’ plant collection for many years, leaving visitors in awe of its sheer beauty and size.

“The lily was so large that in 1910 the daughter of the Botanical Gardens’ curator was photographed sitting on it on a chair.

“As part of our ‘Growing our Green Heritage’ project we’re delighted to announce the return of the giant water lily which we have cultivated from seed material kindly donated to use by Cambridge University Botanical Gardens,” she added.

After spending the winter submerged in warm water and bathed in near-constant light to promote rapid growth, the plants have been re-potted and transferred into the main pool.

The pond’s water is dyed black with specialist plant-friendly dye to discourage algal growth and kept at a minimum of 25°C to mimic conditions in their South American homeland.

“The growth after the last potting up in the pond is usually pretty fast and will speed up with the increased light and warmth,” said Senior Glasshouse Horticulturist, Alberto Trinco.

“I expect it to be full size in mid-June with margins of improvement. We will remove the first flower buds so that the plant can concentrate its energy on leaf growth and let it bloom maybe from July or later so that we can pollinate the flowers and get seeds for next year,” he added.

The Victoria cruziana water lily is native to subtropical South America, where it is found in Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

The genus Victoria was named in honour of Queen Victoria and the specific epithet cruziana was given in honour of Andrés de Santa Cruz (1792–1865), President of Peru and Bolivia, who sponsored an expedition where the first specimens were collected.

This year Birmingham Botanical Gardens is embarking on a transformational £14m capital project ‘Growing our Green Heritage’, having recently secured a Round 1 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

The project will restore the historic glasshouses, improve the site infrastructure, and promote the value of nature and green spaces, increasing public understanding of the importance of plant biodiversity to life on earth, ensuring the Gardens’ legacy for generations to come.

For more information visit Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Westbourne Rd, Birmingham B15 3TR.

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