Monday, January 10, 2011

Amazon Waterlily Pavilion - A glass palace for the once royal waterlily

The Amazon Waterlily Pavilion at the Adelaide Botanic Garden is one of the places in Australia where one can see the Amazon Giant Waterlily or Victoria amazonica. The pavilion is a stately glass building completed in 2007 that houses the giant waterlily.

This building itself is just as eye catching as its inhabitants. Unlike any other glass building, the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion is a showcase of specialist structural engineering that combined cutting edge engineering design and detailing with inspirational aesthetics. This resulted in the use of glass in many structural forms, including glass roofs with load bearing glass beams, columns, transfer beams and walls.
View of the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion. The plants in the foreground are Dyckia sp., bromeliads originating from Brazil.

Unfortunately for me, it was not in bloom when I was there. The lily pads were impressive though, with a distinct 'bubble' like patterning on the immature pads that had already unfurled but not yet completely flattened out. The structure of the pads were used as inspiration for Joseph Paxton's design of the The Victoria Regia House, which became the precursor to his design of the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, London to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.
A rather large Victoria amazonica lily pad that had just 'flattened out'. You can see the cell-like 'bubbles' on the leaf surface.  The reflection of the glass roof of the pavilion can be seen in the water, giving the impression that the roof is in the pond and that the leaves hang from it.

The immature pads are armed with disgustingly nasty spines and prickles as a means to ward of hungry herbivores that might otherwise be tempted to munch on the developing leaf. This thorny surface gets unfurled and finally faces downwards to the water when the leaf have fully expanded, with the exception on the edge where the pads turns upwards. The alien looking, spiteful leaves are by itself a sight to behold.
The underside of the lily pads are armed with nasty spines to keep the leaves of the Victoria waterlily from being eaten by hungry herbivores or fishes.
Chewing on this leaf and it probably would feel like having a mouthful of porcupine.

Quick facts about Victoria amazonica

The plant first described by Eduard Poeppig in 1832 as Euryale amazonica. He placed the plant in the genus of Euryale based on the supposition that it belonged to the same genus as the Asian Euryale ferox, the spiny Gorgon lily that have small purple flowers.

In 1837, John Lindley established the genus Victoria and gave the specific epithet  regia in honor of Queen Victoria. So the plant is literally being called the royal Victoria.

The Euryale amazonica that Poeppig described was transferred to the genus Victoria (since it does not belong to the Asiatic genus of Euryale). The specific epithet amazonica however, takes precedence over the name regia by the rules of nomenclature, thus the Amazon lily fell from her royal throne, so to speak. Hence the title of this post - the once royal waterlily.

Victoria amazonica has an interesting sex life, closely linked with the behavior of its sole pollinator, the scarab beetles from the genus Cylocephata. Like many primitive flowering plants, it is capable of thermogenesis i.e. heat production by the flowers.



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