and Their Place in the Hobby
by David Curtright
Click images to enlarge
Among the driving forces behind the propagation of waterlilies
over the years have been the desires to achieve greatness of
plant and flower size, multiplicity of petals, and vividness
of color. Of course, there have been many small lilies produced.
The fact that they occur in nature virtually guarantees that
there will be diminutive cultivars produced, but it has traditionally
never really been a goal among hybridizers, in general, to produce
Recently, however, more of them have come into the hobby.
This is undoubtedly because there is a greater number of successful
hybridizers than there has ever been, but is also a response
to the needs of the hobby. More and more people have small water
gardens on patios and in corners of their small yards, so there
is a greater need for dwarf lilies.
Moderate diminution of leaves and flowers is common enough. There
are many varieties that, when compared to the largest of the
Nymphaea varieties available, and knowing that there are
some very small lilies, can only be said to be "dwarf".
As an example, N. 'Hall Miller' is very large; 'Marliacea
Albida' is still large, but not huge; 'Hermine' is a dwarf; and
'Helvola' is miniature. To find truly small lilies, though, one
needs to turn back to nature.
I have tried to grow three species of small wild tropical
lilies. I first encountered two of them in Australia. Walter
Pagels and I found N. nouchali growing in a ditch near
the airport in Cairns. It was growing in very shallow water,
its tiny leaves and small, light blue flowers growing among some
weeds and trash. When we first found it, there were no ripe seeds
to collect, so we took a chance and trapped a few of the unripe
seedpods in a plastic bag, leaving them attached to the plants,
knowing that we would be back in several days. The bags kept
them nearer the surface where they would stay particularly warm.
It worked, and we were able to collect several seeds, which
we took home. This is where everything fell apart. The seeds
germinated, but the plants did not survive. Neither of us succeeded
with them. This species may be widespread in the southern tropics,
and comes in shades of white, blue, or pink. There is some confusion
surrounding the taxonomy of it and its varieties.
While on that same trip, we visited Ivan Nozaic, discoverer of
the recently described N. minuta. He told us the story
of how he had found it in Madagascar some years before. He was
growing it in a small aquarium under a bench in his greenhouse.
He gave each of us some seeds, and we took them home with high
hopes. I think that I recall part of the discussion being whether
this might be related to N. nouchali.
We brought N. minuta home, and of course, Walter succeeded
with it, while I failed miserably. This went on for a couple
of years, with him growing it in an aquarium, blooming it in
that aquarium, and then growing it outside in several places,
while I couldn't make it stick anywhere. Finally, one day, the
planets aligned themselves in such a way that, when Walter offered
me some more seeds, and I said yes, that I was able to grow them
successfully. I tossed the seed pods that he had given me into
a 4" (10cm) deep tray, with an inch (2.5cm) of peat moss,
covered with silica sand, then flooded with water. In the shallow
water, the seeds germinated quickly, and the plants grew well.
Well enough, in fact, that I was able to spread plants out all
over our large county, testing its limits. It is now well established
in my collection, and ought to be around for a while. It offers
interesting possibilities for hybridizers, although there does
not seem to be any variability in any of its characteristics.
The third species of small lily that I have grown is N.
elegans, from Florida. Walter Pagels and I were driving near
Punta Gorda, creeping along the shoulder of the road, driving
as slowly as possible, while looking into the ditches for interesting
things, usually Nymphaea. Suddenly, we saw tiny leaves
looking up from a ditch about 6 or 8 feet (1.8 or 2.4 meters)
below the road. The pool was about 20 feet long and 8 feet (6m
and 2.4m) wide, and was shallow all the way across. The lilies
were blooming here and there, with two types of flowers, one
with eight petals and one with 11. We were fortunate enough to
find tubers, so we took a few plants and brought them home.
Table of Contents
^ v N. elegans
I have since produced many hundreds of seedlings, and have
had tubers recover for two years. The leaves are plain green
on top, but have a distinctly colored underside. It is sort of
a brown-red with a narrow green stripe around the leaf margin.
The flowers are, as the name would imply, elegant little things,
white or very pale blue, and have no more than 11 petals per
blossom. I do not know anything of its tolerance for cold, but
it seems to me that if it can handle the occasional hard frosts
that Florida is heir to, it ought to be able to survive at least
mild winters in most places, at least as seed.
One problem that I have noted, and this is true of N. minuta,
as well, is that of seed production. It is possible for these
plants to become weeds in tanks containing different varieties
of Nymphaea. Seedlings begin to crop up in most of the
pots in the tank, so you need to learn to recognize them as soon
as possible to keep them culled out of other pots. Fortunately,
each of these species has its own distinct characteristics, making
them easy to differentiate from cultivars and other species.
I think that the future of some of these lilies within the hobby
is assured. More and more hybridizers are revisiting, or experimenting
for the first time with some of the species, some of which are
endangered in their native habitats, so the possibilities are
expanding. One breeder complained to me, though, as I offered
to send him a specimen of N. elegans, that he had tried
it in the past but that it had consistently produced seedlings
that looked just like N. elegans, exhibiting none of the
characteristics of the other parent. If somebody can break through
that barrier, though, this plant might produce something of value
someday. We shall see.