From the vast, unspoiled expanses of the Amazon rainforest to the busy streets of Georgetown, Guyana is a land of vibrant contrasts and diverse cultures.
Like its homeland, Guyana’s national flower, the Giant Water Lily (Victoria amazonica), stands as a symbol of remarkable beauty, resilience, and mystery. A marvelous aquatic plant, it invites us to dive into an extraordinary journey that showcases the enchanting allure of nature.
Description of The Giant Water Lily
Victoria amazonica, commonly known as the Amazon Water Lily or Giant Water Lily, is a species of flowering plant that belongs to the Nymphaeaceae family.
It is renowned for its enormous circular leaves, which can grow up to 3 meters in diameter, creating a stunning floating platform on the water’s surface. The leaves are ribbed underneath and have upturned edges, providing buoyancy and strength. They are green on top and purplish-red underneath.
The flower itself is an extraordinary spectacle, measuring up to 40 cm in diameter. It undergoes a captivating transformation over a couple of days. When it first blooms, it is white, releasing a pineapple-like scent to attract pollinators.
By the second night, the flower turns a deep pinkish-purple, a signal to the beetles that pollinated it that the feast is over. The bloom then closes, submerges to self-fertilize and develop its seeds, and reopens a few days later to release mature seeds into the water.
This remarkable flower blooms during the warmer months, from late spring to early autumn. Despite its grandeur, each bloom lasts for only about 48 hours, making the spectacle of its blooming a rare and much-anticipated event.
Where Does The Giant Water Lily Grow?
Victoria amazonica is native to the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin, which spreads across several countries in South America, including Guyana. It prefers a tropical climate, flourishing best in warm temperatures and high humidity.
While it’s often found in calm bodies of water like ponds and slow-moving streams, it’s specifically adapted to the fluctuating water levels of the Amazon’s floodplain areas.
The Giant Water Lily is not exclusive to its native region, however. Due to its unique beauty, it has been introduced to water gardens around the world, notably in botanical gardens, where it is grown in large, heated ponds to mimic its natural tropical habitat.
The Giant Water Lily in The Ecosystem
The Giant Water Lily plays a significant role in its ecosystem. Its massive, buoyant leaves provide habitat and protection for several aquatic species. Small fish and amphibians often seek shelter under their leaves, escaping predators and the hot tropical sun.
The transformation of its flowers from white to pink serves a crucial role in its pollination process. On the first night of blooming, the white, fragrant flowers attract scarab beetles.
The flower then closes, trapping the beetles inside, where they help pollinate the flower by moving around and spreading pollen. On the second night, the flower reopens, now a deep pink, and the beetles are released, carrying pollen with them to other water lilies.
Beyond its ecological role, the Giant Water Lily also helps reduce erosion and maintain water quality by slowing down water currents and providing shade that limits the growth of algae.
Symbolism and Meaning: Why and When Did The Giant Water Lily Become the National Flower of Guyana?
Victoria amazonica, or the Giant Water Lily, became the national flower of Guyana due to its symbolic representation of the country’s rich natural wealth and diverse ecosystems.
This plant, native to the Amazon River basin which covers part of Guyana, symbolizes the tropical richness of the country and its link to one of the world’s most important and biodiverse ecosystems.
The choice of the Giant Water Lily as the national flower also carries a sense of national pride, as Guyana is part of the Amazon rainforest, which is globally recognized for its vast biodiversity and crucial role in global climate regulation.
Names of The Giant Water Lily
Commonly known as the Giant Water Lily, this impressive plant is scientifically named Victoria amazonica. It was initially named Victoria regia in honor of Queen Victoria, but the name was later changed to reflect its Amazonian origins.
In different regions, it is known by a variety of names, often in local languages. In Brazil, for example, it’s called ‘Vitória-régia,’ reflecting the original name given by the British botanist John Lindley.
The plant’s enormous, round leaves have also led to it being nicknamed the ‘water platter.’ Despite the variety of names, its remarkable size and distinct form make it easily recognizable worldwide.
Interesting Facts About The Giant Water Lily
- Victoria amazonica holds the record for the world’s largest water lily. Its leaves can grow up to 3 meters in diameter and can support the weight of a small child if the load is evenly distributed.
- In its natural habitat, the flower emits a strong pineapple-like fragrance when it blooms.
- The Giant Water Lily has a unique pollination mechanism. The white flowers open at night, attracting beetles with their sweet smell. As dawn approaches, the flower closes, trapping the beetles inside. The trapped beetles then pollinate the flower as they try to escape. The flower reopens at the next dusk, releasing the beetles and turning pink.
- The plant’s large leaves have a complex network of veins that provide buoyancy and rigidity, enabling it to float effortlessly on the water’s surface. This is a perfect adaptation to its aquatic environment.
- The Giant Water Lily is prominently featured on the back of the Guyanese hundred-dollar bill, symbolizing its importance to the country.
How to Grow The Giant Water Lily
Growing the Giant Water Lily is a feat of patience and care, as it requires specific (tropical) conditions to thrive:
- Soil: A deep, nutrient-rich soil base is needed. The soil should be mixed with compost or slow-release fertilizer to ensure nutrient availability.
- Sunlight: The plant requires a good amount of sunlight, at least six hours per day. They thrive in full sunlight.
- Water: The Giant Water Lily, being an aquatic plant, needs to be grown in still water. The depth of water should initially be shallow, gradually increasing as the plant grows. The water’s temperature should ideally be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Climate: The plant is a tropical species and does best in warm climates. If grown in a colder climate, it should be moved indoors during the colder months.
Remember, this is a large plant that needs ample space to grow. It’s ideal for large ponds or bodies of water. It’s also crucial to monitor for pests and diseases regularly. Regularly remove dead leaves and flowers to encourage new growth.
Other Beautiful Flowers Also Found In Guyana
In addition to the Giant Water Lily, Guyana is home to a plethora of stunning flora.
- Heliconia: This group of plants, with their exotic and vibrant flowers, are found in abundance in Guyana’s rainforests. Their unique structure makes them a popular nesting place for hummingbirds.
- Bougainvillea: Known for their brilliant colored bracts, they are a common sight in many Guyanese gardens. They thrive in the warm climate and bloom almost all year round.
- Orchids: Guyana is home to many species of orchids, which flourish in the country’s tropical climate. These include the stunning Cattleya, known as the “Queen of Orchids”.
- The Ixora: This is a striking flowering shrub, native to South and Southeast Asia, that comes in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, and pink. The clusters of flowers are visually appealing and they have a mild, pleasant fragrance.
The Giant Water Lily, or Victoria amazonica, is not just Guyana’s national flower, but a symbol of the nation’s rich and diverse natural heritage. This majestic water plant reflects the vitality and resilience of the Guyanese ecosystem.
Whether its unparalleled size, unique pollination strategy, or its depiction on the country’s currency, the Giant Water Lily holds a special place in the heart of the Guyanese people and is a beacon of national pride.