After managing to germinate and grow this plant, collected
in Australia, to maturity, I have two different theories:
- Either this is a different species, probably new, and not
- Or nearly all the plants in cultivation under N. nouchali
are misnamed plants and this is the true N. nouchali (maybe
a different Australian subspecies?)
From a horticulturist's point of view, there is little I can
do to resolve this enigma, apart of supplying plant material
for DNA testing or for further botanical research. Obviously,
tracking back to the herbarium type specimen for N. nouchali
would be more than desirable as this will be the ultimate proof
of what type of plant would keep the name N. nouchali.
For me, N. nouchali has never been a "clear"
species. Looking at pictures of what the growers have as N.
nouchali it is clear that either the plant is highly variable
(which I doubt) or that this name is being used wrong. Despite
my not being a botanist, I always feel confident telling apart
species of Nymphaea that I have previously grown, but
I must admit that I never feel like this when the name N.
nouchali pops out.
Nymphaea nouchali and Nymphaea stellata seem
to be used in the trade as a substitute for the more precise
terms Nymphaea sp. or Nymphaea hybrid of unknown
origin. Luckily, the latter name (Nymphaea stellata) appears
to be not a valid name any longer and therefore any plant that
is named N. stellata is wrongly named since this name
does not exist. However; N. nouchali is a valid name,
but there seems to be a problem here: there is a true N. nouchali
somewhere, but there are several plants in cultivation that
probably do not fit the original description and the type specimen.
I would refer to them as "folkloric" N. nouchali.
I guess that the "folkloric" nouchali have
arisen for different reasons. One can be misnamed plants in cultivation
by growers; another can be misuse of the name by botanists (N.
nouchali seems to be cited in many African floras, where
this species just occurs in Australasia; and finally, the proliferation
of introduced hybrids into wild areas of Asia that vaguely match
the description of N. nouchali and somehow end up being
classified as nouchali.
What seems clear to me is that this name is commonly misused
so further research needs to be done to shed some light in the
true identity of this species. I hope most of the Nymphaea
growers and botanists will agree with me on this point. It may
happen that this research has been done already. If this is the
case, I hope that whatever has been the latest decision/conclusion
it gets widely divulgated to avoid further confusion. I hope
that the publication of this article will help to shed light
on the true characteristics of what could be a taxonomically
accurate N. nouchali.
Nymphaea is a genus that can be very confusing. Currently,
the accepted names cover about 40 species. Despite this, in the
past up to 370 botanical names have been described. Most of them
are currently invalid names but a fraction of those still survive:
for example N. rubra, N. spontanea, N. zenkeri. While
some of these names may make sense to some, we must emphasize
that they are not scientifically valid and therefore they should
not be used as such. If they are used at all then we should refer
to them as N. 'Spontanea' or N. lotus 'Spontanea',
but not before someone takes the trouble to officially name them
as cultivars or hybrids, as there are rules to follow if this
is the case too.
Australian N. nouchali
Suddenly one day when working with the aquatics at Kew this
tiny pink flower popped out. I thought
what?! I was not
aware that there was a Nymphaea so small?!? I pulled out
the label and I could read N. minuta and thought, indeed,
Looking at the records, I could not find such a name in the
database or in the official listings of plant names or cultivars.
It wasn't accessioned yet either. I thought, well, the Nymphaea
growers are going to love this one!
I thought about telling everyone about my backyard discovery
(in this case back pond) but after enquiring at Kew's Records
Office I learnt that it was totally restricted. I thought that
it would not be polite to say, "I got this!" and "but
I can't give it away so you can't have it!" As well, at
this time I had no idea where it came from or how rare it was,
so I decided to give it a while before I could contact the donor
and find out if I could release this to everyone interested.
By the time I managed to do so, I had realized a few things:
- It has a weedy habit. N. minuta seedlings were growing
all over the tanks.
- It is a species and not a hybrid, as all the seedlings look
the same when flowering.
- It can flower in dark cool conditions.
- It flowers even without floating leaves.
After a few weeks I did another Internet search and more info
popped out. I learned that it was a new species not described
yet and that it was endemic to a single pond in Madagascar (wonder
why as it is so weedy!). I even came across an article in which
someone was claiming that this was almost impossible to grow
and that several botanists failed to grow it. I just wondered
if we were talking about the same plant or if those botanists
tried to grow it on a herbarium shelf rather that in water, as
my problem was to contain this species rather than keep it alive!
Soon after I was glad to see that this plant was starting
to be widely distributed. Eventually it got named and described
by K.C. Landon et al, which was very good news. I don't like
to accession species that don't have official names!
In my experience this plant is one of the easiest tropical
Nymphaeas either from seed or as an adult plant. It takes
heat, cool, sun, shade and is reluctant (in my experience) to
go dormant and form a tuber, even if grown in a tiny pot and
without feeding it at all! (It will not flower though.)
It is not a heavy bloomer, perhaps because every single flower
leads to a fruit, but flowering improves greatly with a bigger
pot and plenty of food. It is quite varied in size, leaf colour
and habit (submerged or floating). A change in the conditions
will always lead to the plant shifting to a different form/growth
habit, so it seems to be very adaptable.
I would not want to finish this article without a warning!
If you are a grower in the tropics
please be extremely
careful with this one! We don't want to have another invasive
such as water hyacinth or N. mexicana. Don't believe that
you can pull out every fruit as it will always manage to hide
one (flowers don't need to open on the surface to develop a fruit
and this species is extremely fast to pull the self-pollinated
flowers down to the very bottom).
In some conditions it is not so weedy. After growing it in
one of our public glasshouse's pond, not a single seedling was
found! This maybe was due to the many fish and tadpoles living
in there, and I can't think of any other reason. Having said
that, don't experiment! Given "wild" conditions, it
will stay there and, as with many other weeds, it will be there
to stay. This warning may be a bit too late
???? Has anybody
seen it growing in the wild (other than Madagascar, of course)?
Thanks to Dr. Barre Hellquist, who very kindly obtained and
distributed this species, two different batches of seed reached
the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, during 2007 and 2008:
- A batch of seeds (dried) collected at Queensland's Cairns
Airport, where this species has colonized the airport's drainage
- A batch of seeds (dried) from a population in Wonga Beach,
Unfortunately, I did not manage to grow any seedlings from
the population at the airport, but I was lucky enough to be able
to grow to maturity plants from the seed collected in Wonga Beach.
Seeds were germinated at 31C (88F) but the seedlings did not
thrive under the conditions I was providing. The seedlings were
not increasing in size and the few submerged leaves that grew
were very small and dark brown in colour. Aware of the mainly
coastal distribution of the species, I set up a tank at the same
temperature as the first trial but I added 1/6 sea water. This
trick did wonders and soon some seedlings started to grow properly.
This time, seedlings bore emerald green leaves that gradually
increased in size, eventually leading to adult flowering plants
that have produced further seeds.
It seems clear that this species needs brackish water or at
least alkaline conditions to be grown from seed (the water previously
used was very soft with a neutral to acidic pH). However, it
may be that once it has reached adult stage it may survive other
conditions and therefore can be used for pond culture. I have
not tried this yet as I wanted to secure a good amount of seed
first and establish more plants in the conditions they seem to
like at present. At the moment, I'm trying to germinate seeds
that were produced in the last few weeks and then I will try
to grow a mature plant without any salt water being added.
A plant of this species can be grown to maturity and set seed
in a tank as small as 35cm long by 20cm deep by 20cm high (14"
by 8" by 8"). It can be grown quite shallow (15cm [6"])
in small pots, with no filtration in the tank and temperatures
ranging from 28C to 32C (82F to 90F). One of the biggest problems
I face is that the snails (Limnaea) seem to love this
plant and seedlings are their favourite choice. Perhaps this
is due to the high concentration of salts in the plant and water,
as the snails seem to move from the soft water into the brackish
tank, probably looking for the necessary ingredients to build
up a healthy shell.
Seedlings are quite slow to develop and it takes about two
or three months for them to start producing floating leaves (Anecphya
seedlings can be flowering in the same amount of time at the
same temperature and light levels
). However they start
flowering once they have developed six or seven floating leaves.
Despite germinating many seedlings, I just have two plants at
present, as many were lost to the snails (which I need to remove
from the tank almost on a daily basis).
The seeds are sown dry. Dry seeds tend to float and to avoid
losing seeds (and eventually, to avoid the collection getting
mixed as free-roaming seeds colonize other pots
) I first
fill a pot with fine loam almost to the rim, but leave at least
a 1/2cm (.2") gap as the loam tends to expand when wet.
(Otherwise you can end up with a pan that looks more like a muffin!)
After pressing the compost down a bit (to avoid the compost opening
a gap between the loam and the pot wall
) I sink it into
the water to prevent bubbles popping out disturbing the seeds
later. Once the pot is totally wet and has stopped bubbling (ideally
it should be left overnight, but ten minutes is much better than
nothing!) I get the pot out of the water, leave the water to
drain by itself for a few seconds and flatten out the surface
again if this is necessary. Then I sprinkle the dried seeds randomly
onto the surface. As the surface is wet they stick to it. If
they are large (such as Anecphya) I push them with my
fingers until they are half buried but still on the surface (this
helps them to get stuck to the loam). After doing this a very
fine layer of sand can be sprinkled on the top. For seeds as
small as Aussie nouchali, this layer should not be thicker
than 2 or three grains of sand! (well
you know what I mean
) as they are really small. Once all of this is done, as
the seeds were previously dried (therefore they should float)
I don't sink the pots back in the tank. There are two things
that can be done:
- Either place the pot in a tray that has 3 or 4 cm (1.2 or
1.6") of water. Water will flood the loam by capillarity
and the surface of the pot will be damp, enabling the seeds to
imbibe water during the next 24 hours, making them "sinkable"
- Or place the pot in a tray that has deeper water. The depth
should be a couple of millimetres higher than the compost line
in the pot, but at least a couple of millimetres shallower than
the rim of the pot. This will make some seeds float but they
will not be allowed to leave the pot area and sooner or later
they will sink.
It may sound a bit "too much" but for me, this is
much faster than wetting the seeds in a plastic bag and then
picking them one by one and placing them into the pot. In the
case of Aussie nouchali picking the seeds one by one is
almost impossible due to their size!