Whats in a name?
by Rich Sacher
New Orleans, Louisiana USA
Click images to enlarge
I had an email from someone in China last year, offering to
sell "named varieties" of hardy waterlilies, for twenty
five cents each, minimum order of 1,000 plants. A big box store
near me has some hardy waterlily rhizomes for sale at $9.95,
packaged in boxes of peat moss, with color photos attached. A
mail order nursery has a catalogue offering both tropical and
hardy waterlilies for sale, at prices cheaper than most other
mail order companies.
The one thing all of the above have in common is that they
do not know and probably do not care about the names of the lilies
they are selling. The Chinese claim they are selling named varieties
... but you get whatever they send you ... unlabeled. The big
box packaged lily may show a bright yellow lily in its photograph
... but it may just as easily turn out to be a pink, white, or
red flower when it finally blooms, name unknown. The mail order
nursery I refer to above is one which is notorious for sending
out misnamed waterlilies. They do not know and do not care about
the accuracy of their plants names, and will often send
out substitute plants, even if you specifically ask them not
to. In the last order I received from them, 50% of the plant
names were wrong! They did not even bother to respond to my letter
So ... whats in a name? In this case, plenty! Since
the waterlily is usually the jewel of the pond, (and the most
expensive plant, too!), there is a temptation among uninformed
or unscrupulous suppliers to attach a well-known name to seedlings,
or to plants of unknown origin. Thus, any night blooming lily
with reddish leaves and flowers may be passed off as Red
Flare, which is a highly desirable hybrid in the trade.
N. 'Red Flare'
Red Flare is a premium plant, and is sometimes a
little fussy about recovering from shipment. On the other hand,
Jennifer Rebecca is a red flowering night bloomer
which is prolific in its blooms, and much easier to grow. The
plants may seem similar, but they are definitely different hybrids.
Which one is right for you? Are you a beginner who wants an easy
variety? Or, are you a seasoned expert who wants the more difficult
challenge? Without the correct name, there is little chance of
getting the right plant, even after you have made an informed
The correct name of a lily is also important so that the appropriate
cultural information can be obtained. Some varieties are poor
performers in certain climates; others are very heavy feeders;
still others may not transplant easily. Differences in temperature
tolerance, minimum day length required, resistance to disease,
etc., are all factors that should be taken into account when
you purchase a lily ... but you cannot do that if you do not
have the correct name.
The hardy lily James Brydon is a great red flowered
lily for northern gardens, but its leaves and flowers will burn
badly in the heat of the deep south. A reliable hardy red waterlily
for the south is Laydekeri Fulgens, a variety which
blooms well even in the heat of our southern summers. How do
you know if you have gotten the plant you ordered? Its
all in the name.
'Laydekeri Fulgens' >
If you have grown the same waterlily under the wrong name for
several years, you may have shared some offspring with others
... perpetuating the error. Once you have grown a plant with
the wrong name for a long time, it will be hard to convince you
that your plant was misnamed all along. I remember a discussion
with a dear friend some years ago ... she insisted that her white
night blooming lily was Missouri. That was the name
on its tag when she bought it many years before. I asserted that
it was Woods White Knight. To settle the argument,
I sent her the real Missouri ... once you have seen
the real deal, you could not confuse it with any other plant.
It cost me a plant, but I won the bet!
So, whats in this name? Well, Missouri is a
giant of a plant with huge flowers, but a shy, periodic bloomer.
Most other white night bloomers will produce ten times more flowers
in a season than Missouri. Missouris
flowers are intermittent but spectacular. So, what do you want
... frequent blooms or fewer, spectacular blooms? Again, the
correctly named plant will give you the plant you have chosen.
There are now so many hybrid waterlilies on the market, that
no one person can claim to be expert in recognizing every one.
Honest mistakes are bound to happen. I have found at least one
or two mislabeled waterlilies at every botanic garden I have
ever visited, both in this country and abroad. At one of my favorite
botanic gardens, a group of us from the International Water Gardening
Society were gathered at the lily pond, and all of us agreed
that the beautiful pink lily we were enjoying was mislabeled.
It was gorgeous, we had never seen it before, but we all declared
(too loudly, I suppose) that it was definitely NOT Enchantment.
With that, a voice boomed out behind us: "It damn well
better be Enchantment ... weve been growing
it under that name for over 20 years!" It was the curator
of aquatic plants, Pat Nutt, the celebrated and respected waterlily
expert at Longwood Gardens! If this mistake managed to get into
his collection, it can surely happen to any one of us.
< N. 'Enchantment'
There will always be some hobbyists who claim that they dont
care about the name of the waterlily they are buying, as long
as it is "pretty". There are some wholesalers and retailers
who express this same sentiment. But as has been discussed, if
you do not have the correct name, you cannot access the information
you may need to grow the plant successfully. If suppliers really
believe that the name of a lily is not important ... why do they
attach the name of a well-known hybrid to their unknown plants?
Honesty would dictate that the plant should be labeled "unknown
hybrid" ... but that might not bring as high a price as
a known hybrid with a proven track record. So, waterlilies are
being sold and propagated under the wrong names not only because
of honest mistakes, but also because of deliberate deception.
With waterlilies now being shipped around the country and
around the world, and with new hybrids constantly appearing in
the trade, how can any of us know for sure that we are getting
what we paid for? How can outright fraud be discouraged and brought
under control? As always, it is the educated consumer who drives
the market. As the hobby of pond keeping grows and begins to
mature, more and more hobbyists and suppliers are demanding truth
in labeling. Fortunately, we now have at our fingertips two valuable
resources to insure accuracy in waterlily names.
The first resource is one that should be required viewing
by everyone engaged in any form of water gardening ... the website
Victoria-Adventure. Along with
fascinating articles on many related subjects, this site has
a photographic encyclopedia of hundreds of water lily flowers.
The waterlilies are divided into a hardy section, and a tropical
section, and they are listed alphabetically to provide quick
views of almost any waterlily you want to see. These images have
been provided by growers and hobbyists around the world, and
provide a convenient way to compare your plant to the photos
shown. On occasion, an image may be sent to the gallery and is
later found to be in error ... in which case it is removed from
the page. Constant updating and corrections make this site an
invaluable world-wide reference for establishing the correct
names of waterlily varieties. It is also the best place to introduce
a new hybrid to the world!
In addition to these galleries, there are other pages which
present the hybrid lilies of various breeders ... with the images
often being supplied by the hybridizers themselves. This affords
great accuracy for the pictures presented, and establishes the
origin for both the plants and their photos.
Our second resource is newer, and also internet based: Water
Gardeners International. Free membership in the organization
is offered ... all you need to do is sign up! A free WGI Journal
is then available to members online, containing original articles
by experts from around the world. This WGI Journal has become
every bit as valuable as the Victoria-Adventure site, and provides
articles of interest from contributors in more than 26 countries.
In January 2006, the first meeting of WGI was held at Dania
Beach Water Gardens in Florida, and the WGI decided to address
the problem of misnamed waterlilies through its Waterlily Certification
Program, under the designation "Truly
Named". Growers, wholesalers and retailers are invited
to pledge that they make every attempt to sell only true-to-name
varieties. Unknown seedlings or plants must be labeled as such.
WGI monitors the program, and supplies Truly Named labels for
the certifying members to use on their plants. These growers
or retailers certify that they strive to sell only accurately
named waterlilies, and the WGI furnishes them with promotional
materials to this effect.
Because some mistakes are inevitable, participants in this
program must be willing to make refunds or exchanges in those
cases where they have sold an erroneously named plant. They must
then correct the problem so it does not continue. Suppliers who
fail to do so may be reported to the WGI, which will encourage
compliance with the program. If that fails, the supplier will
be removed from the WGI program, and members of the WGI will
be so notified.
Although participation in this program is voluntary for the
suppliers, it is the educated pond keeper who makes this program
work. By insisting on accurately named plants, both hobbyists
and retailers can drive the market toward this goal. As the idea
has taken hold, it is advantageous to retailers and wholesalers
to proclaim that they certify the accuracy of their plant labeling,
which will promote customer confidence and loyalty. Participation
in the WGI program is additional sales tool for them, and benefit
both the supplier and the end customer.
Each of us involved in water gardening can play our own vital
role in promoting honesty within the industry, even on an international
level, by insisting on truth in labeling. We can help put an
end to the theft of hybrid names, and the profiteering that goes
along with it.
If any of us needs further proof that this is a serious problem,
just ask any victim of identity theft, "Whats in a
name?" Their answer will be: "Everything!".