The Normanton Lilies -
A New Species?

By Andre Leu
Click images to Enlarge

When Walter Pagels and I first collected the Normanton waterlilies, we believed that they were Nymphaea gigantea. Dr Barre Hellquist who has an extensive knowledge on Australian waterlily species was skeptical that they were N. gigantea. His records showed that N. gigantea did not occur as far north as Normanton. After 18 months of trying to key them out as an existing species, I now believe that these plants belong to a new species.

Native Australian waterlilies belong to the Nymphaea subgenus of Anecphya. This can be divided into two distinct subgroups, that I will define as the gigantea subgroup and the violacea subgroup.

The differences are defined as:

Gigantea Subgroup: N. gigantea, N. macrosperma N. immutabilis and N. atrans

1: A noticeable space between the stamens and the petals.
2: Spines on the edges of the leaves
3: No scent or very faint scent
4: Large seeds

N. gigantea (blue) and
gigantea 'Albert de Lestang'
Kit Knotts Photo

 Violacea Subgroup. N. violacea, N. hastifolia and N. ellenae

1: No space between the stamens and the petals.
2: No spines on the edges of the leaves
3: A strong fragrant scent
4: Very small seeds

The Normanton lilies
Andre Leu Photo

N. gigantea 'Albert de Lestang'
William Phillips Photo

N. violacea
William Phillips Photo

The Normanton lily species belongs in the gigantea subgroup because it clearly possesses the first three characteristics of that group. Even though it has small seeds they are still larger than the species in the violacea subgroup. This rules out N. violacea, N. hastifolia and N. ellenae.

The Normanton lily has the following differences from all the gigantea subgroup species.

1: It has significantly smaller seeds than any of the gigantea subgroup species.
2: The new leaves are red. Most of the new leaves of all gigantea subgroup species are green. Some of the pink flowered forms have red new leaves.
3: The fact that some Normanton lilies have the ability to flower 24 hours a day is also an important difference.

There are also individual differences from the four gigantea subgroup species.

Dr. Barre Hellquist sent tissue samples of Nymphaea 'Andre Leu' (one of the Normanton collection) to Dr. Thomas Borsch in Germany. Preliminary results show that the chloroplast genome fragment analyzed is identical with N. macrosperma. It may be a sister species or a hybrid with it. The maternal parent could have provided the chloroplast genome. This will be further clarified when the DNA of nucleus and the mitochodria have been analysed to find other characteristics.

However, it does not fit N. macrosperma because:

N. macrosperma has the largest seeds of all the Anecphya - hence its name. Macrosperma is Latin for 'large seed'. The Normanton seeds are small.

The petal count is greater. N. macrosperma possesses the fewest petals of this group, with up to 20 petals. The Normanton lilies can have over 30 petals.

N. macrosperma has acute tipped petals whereas the Normanton flowers have obtuse tipped petals.

The Normanton lilies have long filaments like N. gigantea and N. immutabalis rather than the 5mm filaments of N. macrosperma.


N. 'Andre Leu'
William Phillips Photo

N. macrosperma
Barre Hellquist Photo

 It does not fit N. atrans because:

The main characteristic that distinguishes N. atrans as a species from all other lilies are flowers with blue outer petals, that change to a deep pink over several days. The Normanton lilies have consistent petal colors that do not fade, change or fade very slightly. N. atrans is reputed to stay open 24 hours a day, however this has not been properly verified.

N. atrans
Barre Hellquist Photo

It does not fit N. immutabilis because:

The shape of the flower is very different. N. immutabilis and its very close relative N. atrans have cup shaped flowers, with the petals staying more upright than the other species. The Normanton lily has flowers with petals that open more horizontally than these two species.

Most N. immutabilis varieties have blue outer petals and white inner petals. In most cases except for rare pure white or pure blue flowers there is a difference in color between outer and inner petals. The Normanton group usually has no color variation between outer and inner petals.

N. immutabilis
Andre Leu Photo

The Normanton plants have the closest affinities with N. gigantea. However the significant differences are:

The flowers fade slightly. The flowers of N. gigantea noticeably fade as they age.

The flowers stay open longer, for up to 9 days as against 4 to 5 days for N. gigantea.

The first day flowers stay open for the whole day, instead of half a day in N. gigantea.

In cultivation, I have noticed that the Normanton plants are more
reliable than N. gigantea. N. gigantea plants go dormant very easily at the onset of cooler weather. The Normaton plants keep on flowering profusely in the cooler weather in the tropics.

N. gigantea 'Neorosea'
Kit Knotts Photo

I believe that these differences are significant enough to justify a detailed taxonomic description and a new binomial (Latin) name so that these Normanton water lilies can have species status.

Note: Andre was proven correct. The Normantons are now N. carpentariae.
New Australian Waterlily Species, November, 2005

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