Myths & Misunderstandings
By Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge
There are some ideas about Victoria that are myths, misunderstandings or just plain bunk. We are not even sure where some of these came from but they have pervaded (and sometimes clouded!) the thinking about Victoria and therefore its cultivation. We have reviewed all of the literature at our disposal, compared it with our own experience and observations and address these myths below.
Myth 1: Victoria can't possibly grow well in water with high pH or near the ocean.
Tell IT that! >>>>>>
Myth 2. Victoria is an annual.
This just isn't true, at least for V. amazonica or the hybrids. Numerous growers in the past few years have sustained plants for more than a year. Historically, one early reference says:
"In 1852, John F. Allen, of Salem, Massachussetts, had a plant from seed of Mr. Cope's growing. This plant lived through four summers and matured over 200 flowers." Conard in Bailey.
In more recent times, Prance and Arius write, "Although many plants of V. amazonica live for less than a year because of changes in water level, the species is not strictly an annual. It is reported as an annual in several places because of its growth habit in cultivation in temperate regions. In Amazonia, in places where there is no change in water level, an individual plant lasts for several years. For example, a plant of V amazonica presently in cultivation in the ponds of Museu Goeldi in Belem is now 7 years old (P.B. Cavalcante, pers. com.)."
Martin Leppard, who spent six months in Amazonia collecting data for the Prance-Arius study, puts it this way, "Victoria amazonica is in fact a perennial that tends to grow as an annual in its natural habitat, coerced to do so by unfavourable water levels arising during the course of the year."
We do think that cruziana may truly be an annual but there is little evidence from study in the wild or in cultivation to confirm or deny this. We would very much like to know of anyone who has successfully grown a cruziana plant more than a year.
Myth 3: Victoria can only be grown in a huge container in a huge pond.
George Pring wrote, "Sometimes the plant has eight to ten leaves growing from its center. To accommodate a water-lily of this size the pool should be at least 20 feet in diameter. . . . The amateur gardener need not be dissuaded by these measurements as the size of the plant may be governed by the amount of soil given the roots, and a small specimen may be grown in an ordinary half barrel."
And William Tricker: "Last year a few plants that were not wanted were allowed to remain in eight-inch pots, where they produced flower buds and one perfect flower, and would have continued to flower had they not been removed."
Myth 4: The cross reciprocal to 'Longwood Hybrid' is impossible.
Over time "unviable" became "impossible" and no one (to our knowledge) attempted the cross again until 1998. 'Adventure' didn't listen to the contention, does exist and is beautiful!
Myth 5: Back-cross hybrids are impossible because of presumed uneven chromosomes.
We saw no reason not to try to make them, and neither did Joe Summers of Missouri Botanical Garden. We and he produced seeds of 'Longwood Hybrid' x amazonica (V. 'Discovery') in 1998 and we made seeds for the others in 1998 and 1999. They are fully viable plants that look just like ¾ species.
Myth 6: Victoria is only receptive to pollination the first night of flowering. Therefore a single flower can't self-pollinate.
Bunk. It is true that first night flowers are female only
- they have no pollen of their own so it must come from a second
night flower via beetle or man. Second night flowers are not
just receptive to pollination but even more so than first night
flowers when hand pollinated. We now have five years of data
from every possible experiment to support this.
Prance and Arius conducted experiments, counting V. amazonica seeds in beetle pollinated flowers AND flowers caged to prevent any intervention. They concluded, "The relatively high seed-set in caged flowers shows that self-pollination is indeed possible, contrary to statements by several previous authors, for example Caspary (1855) and Decker (1936)."
In cultivation we have been told that V. cruziana self-pollinated during George Pring's time at Missouri Botanical Garden. It certainly can do so here, as can amazonica and the hybrids. We can only suppose that cold growing locations, lack of careful observation and incomplete reading of the literature are responsible for the perpetuation of this myth.
Myth 7. Victoria can only be pollinated at night.
Victoria can be pollinated successfully any time that the flower is above the water, first late afternoon, first night, second day, second night, even the third morning if it is prevented from sinking. The flower does not have to be fully open to be receptive. Even the pollen produced in the second night flower dehisces late in the afternoon, hidden from view by closed stamenoids.
Myth 8: Pollen must be gently spread over the stigmatic surface with a camel's hair brush.
Beetles don't carry camel's hair brushes around with them. In fact they bang around in amazonica flowers for a full day, eat holes in the stigma, and still the flowers produce seeds. An example of how much damage the stigma can sustain and still produce seeds is illustrated by this photo. >>>>>>
Early in the 2002 season, not quite back to really being handy at emasculating, I cut entirely underneath the stigma of an amazonica flower. The only part that remained attached was near the floral apex. I pollinated the flower anyway but was sure it was ruined. It produced 255 seeds.
In conclusion, it seems that the pioneers in growing Victoria, who were keen observers and accurate reporters, are not the sources of these myths and misunderstandings. They seem to emanate more from non-scientific articles and FAQs of more recent origin.
Bailey, L.H. The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture.
1914. The MacMillan Co., New York.
Honeycutt, Jack, Bill Anderson, Tim Jennings, Partick Nutt, Nancy Styler. The Victoria FAQ. Private distribution. 1997.
Leppard, Martin. The Amazonian waterlily. Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. March 1978 p. 121-122.
Lockwood, Prof. Samuel. (In the Canadian Horticulturist). Wisconsin State Horticultural Society. Vol. XV, p. 143, 1885.
Nutt, Patrick A. The Victoria Waterlilies. The American Horticultural Magazine. July 1962, Vol. 11, Number 3, p. 136.
Nutt, Partick A. Victoria Longwood Hybrid. Unpublished. 1961.
Prance, Ghillean T. & Jorge R. Arius. A study of the floral biology of Victoria amazonica (Poepp.) Sowerby (Nymphaeaceae). Acta Amazonica 5 (2): 109-139. 1975.
Pring, George. Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin.
Vol. 37(3):85-88, 1949.
Victoria Committee of the IWLS. Victoria Cultivation Guide. International Waterlily Society. 1997.