Only two species of giant water lilies are known…until now. It was discovered that one more exists. This new species is called Victoria boliviana. It has been in the National Herbarium of Bolivia for 34 years. During this time, it was commonly believed to be Victoria amazonica. But no, and it is the largest water lily in the world.
It was years of research. Using novel data it was possible to determine its novelty. The authors of the paper decided to name the species after the Bolivian partners. Its flowers change from white to pink and have spiny petioles. V. boliviana is now the largest water lily in the world, with leaves growing up to 3 meters wide in the wild. The current record for the largest species is held by La Rinconada Gardens in Bolivia. The leaves reached 3.2 meters.
Using social networks
Species of the genus Victoria have been poorly characterized for decades. This knowledge gap stems from the absence of ‘type specimens’ in global collections. What are these? They are specimens of the original plant used to formally describe the species. It turns out that giant water lilies are difficult to collect in the wild.
In 1832, V. amazonica was the first species to be named in the genus. However, data are lacking to allow comparisons with any new species found since then. All existing information on this subject has now been compiled. A data set of the characteristics of the species was formed.
They used citizen science. The iNaturalist app and social media posts tagging Victoria and giant water lilies helped. Also, herbarium specimens and living collections from around the world.
Scientists also analyzed the DNA of V. boliviana. Genetically it was very different from the other two species. This confirmed that there are a total of three species.
“We have a rapid rate of biodiversity loss. Describing new species is a task of fundamental importance. We hope to provide approaches to identify new species quickly and robustly,” Natalia Przelomska states in a release. She is a researcher in biodiversity genomics and author of the study.