Ventnor Botanic Gardens seek new lily hybrid

Ventnor Botanic Gardens - image: VBG
Ventnor Botanic Gardens - image: VBG

The Isle of Wight Ventnor Botanic Garden’s Hannah Rogers has climbed into the Tropical House pool for a night-time dip to pollinate a rare giant waterlily after it bloomed, flowering as it does only in darkness as part of a plan to create a new hybrid species.

The garden has grown Victoria amazonica from seed since 2002 and now hopes to hybridise it with V. cruziana.

In the heatwave weather pollen can be stored in the fridge for a limited time so one can be cross-pollinated with the other if blooming is not simultaneous.

In the wild a beetle would be trapped in the flower overnight. Staff do the job instead with a paintbrush.

Due to the unpredictable nature of the plant, public night-time openings are announced on the day on the garden’s Facebook and Twitter feed @VBGarden.

Curator Chris Kidd said: "This year we are growing both species, Victoria cruziana and V. amazonica, with the intention of hybridising the two.  VBG staff member Hannah Rogers (above) prepares to remove pollen from Victoria cruziana.  This cross was first made by two German doctors studying the cytology of the plants in the early 20th century but their cross wasn't formerly named.  It wasn't until Pat Nutt made the cross at Longwood Botanic Garden in the 1960s that the cross became named Victoria "Longwood Hybrid".  It wasn't until 1996 that the hybrid was made in the UK, at RBG Kew,a feat that has not been achieved since.

"Uniquely at VBG we are hoping to use an un-named cultivar of V. amazonica as the mother or father of the plant, so our hybrid will be entirely new.

"The timing of flowering is crucial as the flowers last for two nights and change sex during the day inbetween.  On the first night the white flower is a receptive female, the second night it has changed to red and become male.  Therefore we need the V. amazonica to be a red, second night male flower to coincide with a V. cruziana female white flower.

"Pollination takes place late at night when it is dark, we have to light the scene in order to see inside the complex flower."

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