The Victoria Regia Lily
General Description / Cultural Significance
The Victoria Regia Lily, Victoria amazonica, can be seen on the coat of arms of Guyana. It is the largest water lily in the world, strong enough to hold up hundreds of pounds and stiff enough that a full human being can sit down in it. Its leaves can be up to ten feet in diameter, and it is both structurally buoyant and fast-growing in size, visibly widening even over the course of just one day. Also known as the giant water lily, its sweet scent is distinctive, and has been likened to butterscotch and pineapple, capable of attracting pollinators at night. Once pollinated, the flower turns from white to pinkish purple. The plant grows from a long stalk submerged underwater, and its leaves are protected from animals and fish by spikes. The Victoria Regia lily is fascinating to observe, for its structural qualities, its sweet scent, and its striking, somewhat bizarre beauty.
Climate Change/Conservation Status
Guyana is highly threatened by the effects of climate change for many reasons, the first being that 90% of the country’s population resides on the coastal plain, which is at or below sea level. This area also is the location of the country’s major industries, fisheries, and agriculture. Although the country does not anticipate that the highly prized Victoria amazonica is directly threatened by climate change, it does require a highly specialized habitat that could be impacted by rainforest destruction and other problems with the Amazon river basin, putting the magnificent flower in danger.
At present, there are only three paved highways through the country, and some dirt roads that connect villages. It is a country of a watery wilderness that is hot and muggy. People now commute primarily by dugout canoes, but the lifestyle in Guyana is predicted to change substantially as ExxonMobil continues to discover gushing oil wells. It has been predicted that this country, one of the poorest in South America, will soon become one of the wealthiest, with all the problems of a newly-minted oil-based economy. However, with the world coming on board for zero carbon, this clashes with the needs of a world in an oil-driven global warming crisis.
Giant water lily
Royal water lily
Ambassador, Permanent Representative, The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Guyana to the United Nations, Research for World Sensorium, Published on World Sensorium original website.
Davit, Jennifer. “Victoria: The Reigning Queen of Waterlilies.” Fairchild Tropic Botanic Garden Virtual Herbarium. http://www.virtualherbarium.org/gardenviews/victoriaamazonica.html
Festeryga, Kim and SeoYoun Kim. “What is the Giant Water Lily?” Tree of Life Web Project, 2008. http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=4851.
“Impacts of Climate Change on Guyana and the World at Large.” Office of Climate Change, Low Carbon Development Strategy—Government of Guyana.
Krauss, Clifford. “The $20 Billion Question for Guyana,” The New York Times, July 20, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/business/energy-environment/the-20-billion-question-for-guyana.html.
“Victoria amazonica.” Kew Science-Royal Botanic Gardens. http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:605776-1.