Water Lilies Add to Arboretum's 75th Anniversary Celebration
By Alfredo Flores
September 17, 2002
The Victoria is the acknowledged
giant of the water lily family. Growing up to eight feet in diameter, its
floating leaves, or pads, can even support small animals. For the past two
years, several of these beautiful behemoths have been a favorite among visitors
to the U.S. National Arboretum in
This year, Mark McGuiness, curator of the arboretum's aquatic collection,
worked diligently to nurture 16 of the Victoria lilies in the water gardens
that surround the arboretum's administrative building. This is up from six a
year ago, the first time the arboretum displayed the two species and primary
hybrids of Victoria.
The lilies now blooming are expected to last through the end of September
and possibly into October, depending on the temperature. But the high cost of
raising and maintaining them makes it unlikely that the arboretum will have
such a display of Victorias next year.
The Victoria display coincides with a year-long celebration of the U.S.
National Arboretum's 75th anniversary, during which it has hosted a number of
special exhibitions to mark the occasion. The arboretum was established by an
act of Congress in 1927 to conduct research, provide education, and conserve
and display trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants to enhance the environment.
The arboretum is home to many new varieties of woody plants and ornamentals
that have been developed there for the burgeoning home gardening market.
It isn't often that these South American lilies have graced the nation's
capital. The Victoria requires large ponds and can be difficult to cultivate.
McGuiness began the plants from seed on March 1, using a pool heated to 85
degrees. By June 1, they were ready for transfer to the aquatic gardens.
Blossoms began opening in July--first white, then pink, and lasting for two
days. Thick veining streaks the undersides of their pads, adding support, and
almost all plant parts, including those submerged, grow fierce spines to ward
off any hungry aquatic animals.
This year, McGuiness collaborated with Victoria growers Kit and Ben Knotts
from Cocoa Beach, Fla. He has also worked with the
Conservancy based in Greenwood Village, Colo. Both the Knotts and the
Victoria Conservancy have web sites that dispense growing tips and other
Covering 446 acres in northeast Washington, D.C., the U.S. National
Arboretum is administered by the Agricultural Research Service, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's primary
scientific research agency.