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Spectacular 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 Washington, DC.

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 Victoria Conservancy based in Greenwood Village, Colo. Both the Knotts and the Victoria Conservancy have web sites that dispense growing tips and other information.

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.

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