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This tiny waterlily brings new potential
small hybrids -
by Rich Sacher
New Orleans, Louisiana USA
Click images to enlarge
A number of years ago, a new dwarf tropical lily was discovered
in Madagascar. It is a very small tropical lily with off-white
to light pink flowers; it can bloom in much shadier conditions
than most waterlilies and sets seed prolifically. It has been
making its way around the world and into the hands of hybridists,
who are working with N. minuta in hopes of creating a
series of attractive dwarf waterlilies.
Those of us in this hobby and industry have been saying for
years that we need to develop a line of truly dwarf tropical
lilies. Since many tropical lilies have a spread of anywhere
from five to ten feet (one and a half to three meters), then
I suppose a dwarf lily should be noticeably smaller than that,
perhaps with a spread of no more than two feet (0.6 meters).
A dwarf tropical lily would be perfect for those whose water
gardens are in containers or small tubs. In a pond of three to
four feet in diameter (one to 1.2 meters), several dwarf lilies
could be grown in place of one larger one, allowing for a collection
of varieties with different flower colors and leaf patterns.
Some of the qualities which would be desirable in a dwarf
tropical lily include compact habit and flowers that open early
and close late. Large flowers with lots of petals, in a variety
of colors, would be on everyone's wish list. Nice markings on
variegated leaves would add to their appeal. While we are daydreaming,
make these new dwarfs easy to grow, too.
Right now, the closest thing we have to a dwarf tropical lily
is N. colorata. With its compact form, smaller leaves
and blue flower with purple stamens, it has often been our only
tropical for really small water gardens. Colorata's growth
can be restricted by growing it in a 4 to 5 inch (10 to 13 centimeter)
pot, and by reducing the fertilizer schedule. This "dwarfs"
the lily by cultural means, but this variety remains a small
lily, not a true miniature. Given enough soil and fertilizer,
colorata usually attains a summer spread of three feet
(one meter) or more.
N. minuta, however, is a true miniature waterlily. It
is something of an oddity, because it has been described as cleistogamous
that is, the flower can pollinate itself even if the flower
remains closed under water. In addition, a first day emergent
flower often opens with pollen already present; thus, it sets
seeds abundantly by self-pollination. When grown in shade and
cooler temperatures, minuta reverts to a submerged form,
producing submerged leaves and flowers. Its flower is small,
up to one and a half inches (four centimeters) in diameter, and
often has only 10 to12 petals. Not very showy at all.
Some hybridizers have produced crosses with minuta that
resulted in variegated leaves and blue flowers. This initial
work is promising, showing that minuta may be a prime
candidate for producing new dwarf waterlilies. So far, these
hybrids exhibit flowers which are quite small, with few petals;
and the color needs improvement. In addition, there are some
obstacles to overcome in working with minuta.
1) Since the flowers of minuta can self-pollinate before
they open, the flowers should have their stamens removed before
that happens. You have to decide how close the flower is to its
first day opening, and remove its stamens before then. If you
wait until the normal opening of the first day flower, your introduced
pollen will certainly be accompanied by pollen from minuta
itself, resulting in a mixture of self-pollinated and cross-pollinated
seeds. Microscopic examination of stamens from minuta
flowers that were just beginning to open confirmed for me that
viable pollen is routinely present before the flower opens for
the first time
2) Since minuta's flowers are less than two inches
(five centimeters) in diameter and have relatively few petals,
continued hybridization will be needed to increase the flower
size, color and petal count, while retaining its dwarf characteristics.
3) Minuta needs to be used both as a seed parent and
as a pollen donor, in multiple trials, to see where the best
results are obtained.
4) It will be a challenge to maintain a dwarf habit in these
new hybrids, while producing a showy plant that grows vigorously
enough to be successful in the hands of an average water gardener.
Last November I was fortunate enough to be given a minuta
by David Curtright of California. It was a healthy plant with
tiny flower buds and leaves only an inch (2.5 centimeters) across.
I began hybridizing with it right away using a pink variegated
tropical lily for the pollen donor. The first crop of seeds was
produced 30 days after pollination. They were planted immediately,
and within two weeks, some seeds were beginning to germinate.
The initial leaves on these seedlings show a variety of colors:
some are plain green, while others are variegated, indicating
that at least some of these seeds are a result of cross-pollination.
in November 2007
with a dime on the leaf
This minuta was grown in my greenhouse pond where the
night time air temperature is only 60° F (15° C)
and by November the plant had stopped producing flower buds.
This may have been in response to the shorter day lengths, or
the low night time temperature
David had also sent a minuta to Kit Knotts in Florida.
When we visited Kit in November, she said she needed a good home
for her minuta. It was making seedlings all over the place,
and competing with her Victoria seedlings. I volunteered
to adopt this second minuta.
When I returned home I planted both plants in a 12 inch (30 centimeter)
diameter Thermoplanter, which warms the soil to 80° F (27°
and I installed a 400 watt Agrosun halide/sodium lamp
about 12 inches (30 centimeters) above the potted plants. Within
three weeks, the minuta which had stopped blooming was
once again producing flowers.
Because the lamp is left on all day and night, it is not possible
for me to say what the "normal" behavior of minuta
is. However, its leaves are now four times bigger than when I
received the plants; they have developed a violet color to the
underside of the leaf, and even some violet shading on the leaf
This may be a result of uninterrupted artificial light, but until
I have grown the plants outdoors through an entire year, I will
not know how minuta behaves during a normal summer season.
What is obvious already is that minuta remains a dwarf
plant, even when grown in warm soil with high fertility and 24
hour light. It sets seeds easily (maybe TOO easily!) and has
already proven to be a successful seed parent in cross-pollination
with other hybrid lilies. Even under less than ideal conditions,
minuta has proven to be a steady bloomer, yielding an
uninterrupted succession of flowers.
Will minuta be the parent we have been looking for
in our quest for dwarf tropical lilies? We don't ask for much
just lots of flowers
with lots of petals
in many different colors
and nicely variegated leaves
on a small plant that is easy to grow. Wouldn't it be
great if all these big dreams come true because of an ordinary
little lily called minuta?