Many people visit their local botanical gardens to support the important conservation work being done and to check out what’s seasonally blooming. According to Renee Waller, Communications & Marketing Director for Naples Botanical Garden, the number one reason people visit a botanical garden is for rest and relaxation. Many visitors come and simply sit on a bench to admire the artistic aquatic displays at the various water lilies and lotus ponds.
For this visit, it was all about the water lilies and lotus plants. Kathy Cahill, new Aquatics Areas Manager, Danny Cox, Senior Horticultural Manager, Renee Waller, and I started the tour by the Burle Marx mosaic wall looking over a large reflecting pool of tropical water lilies.
Cahill is just getting started with the garden’s water lily collection. Her role is to collect and curate, but already she knows that they have one of the largest collections around. She is looking forward to adding more plants and to make sure that the ponds are abundant with spectacular displays.
Cox is celebrating his 11th year at the Garden and as the previous Aquatics Areas Manager, he knows each plant in the collection, and over the last ten years has built an incredible collection.
For this article we will focus on the Tropical Water Lilies or Nymphaea. There are at least 60 species of water lilies and eighty percent of the collection at the Garden are tropical water lilies.
Tropical water lilies consist of day bloomer and night bloomer varieties. Night bloomers tend to be more fragrant and will open their flowers around dusk and keep them open till about mid-morning. Day bloomers open around mid-morning and remain open until late afternoon.
According to Cox, most of the day blooming tropical water lilies are fragrant. Depending on the variety and time of day, you will experience either a stronger or lighter scent.
It is peak bloom for the water lilies with spectacular displays in out-of-this-world shades of pinks from delicate to intense, shades of reds, and blue-looking purples. According to Cox, in nature there isn’t a “true blue” water lily, and it is the dream of hybridizers to come up with a really blue water lily.
Water lilies grow like any terrestrial plants with roots, stems, leaves, flowers. They produce waxy leaves or pads of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Some leaves are light to dark greens; others are mottled with maroons and reds, and they come notched, flecked, or variegated. They flatly rest on the water’s surface with a distinct cut for water to drain out.
The show stopper is the Victoria Amazonica, also known as the Giant Water Platters, with huge circular leaves. They are often pictured with a small baby sitting in the center to demonstrate the size and strength of the leaf. It is a fragrant night blooming tropical water lily named after Queen Victoria and can grow up to eight feet across with rounded upturned edges. The large white to pink blooms are very fragrant with a sweet pineapple-butterscotch scent.
The underside of the leaf is supported by a pattern of rib-like cross ridges to keep the leaves flat and prevent it from collapsing. According to Cahill, this rib-like pattern was thought to have been the original inspiration for Joseph Paxton’s design of the Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
The Water Garden is the heart of the aquatic collection showcasing both water lilies and lotus plants. The boardwalk crossing allows for close up viewing of the stunning flowers with its mesmerizing ripple patterns, while the Thai Pavilion in the Lea Asian Garden is the perfect place for lotus viewing and contemplation. In many Asian cultures the lotus is the symbol of purity, beauty, and perfection.
The lotus plant is a member of the Nelumbo family and according to Cox, the lotus includes only two species with thousands of hybrids coming from the two species. The lotus flower is larger with wider petals and stunning colors of white, yellow, red and all shades of pink. The lotus leaves rise above the water level and the same is true of the flowers. Leaves are green, circular, and deepening in the center with beads of water.
Both water lilies and lotus are considered jewels of the aquatic world with blooms emerging from the murky waters in stunning vibrant colors.