Read about
Carlos Magdalena >


Nymphaea 'Kew's
Electric Indigo'

The World's First Hybrid
Day Bloomer and Night Bloomer

Nymphaea 'Barre Hellquist'
(subgenus Anecphya - day blooming)
N. lotus
(subgenus Lotos - night blooming)

Hybrid and most photos by Carlos Magdalena
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

As you have read over the last few years, reported cases of intersubgeneric crosses in the genus Nymphaea have increased greatly. It is no longer a surprise that this can happen. However, most of those cases involved subgenus Anecphya x subgenus Brachyceras and the reverse cross. Molecular and morphological data previously suggested that those two subgenera (group Apocarpiae) were more closely related to each other than the rest of subgenera in the genus.

The shock came in 2008, when Thai hybridizer Pairat Songpanich (WGI ONLINE Journal 3.2) reported his amazing breakthrough where he not only crossed Nymphaea subgenus Nymphaea (group Syncarpiae) with a subgenus Brachyceras (group Apocarpiae), but also produced the first blue hardy Nymphaea ever. This was proof that distant members of the Nymphaea evolutionary clade could eventually be crossed.

Historically, Pairat Songpanich's achievement was tried several times in the past by hybridizers around the world without success. Attempts to cross a day bloomer with a night bloomer have a long history (Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l'Europe, 1852-1853). Not many reported failures (who reports failure, after all?) but not a single success has come to light to date. Crossing a day bloomer and a night bloomer (after the publication of N. 'Siam Blue Hardy'), was the last Nymphaea hybridizer taboo. The last "impossible" is off of the list, which I'm really happy to be able to report as 2009 starts.

Pollen of a white form of Nympaea lotus (subgenus Lotos) was placed on the stigma of N. 'Barre Hellquist' (subgenus Anecphya). Three weeks later a fruit burst revealing around 40 seeds, about 15 the normal size (large) for its pod parent, and the rest very small (similar to subgenus Lotos) but still with the "fully developed and apparently fertile look". This was so shocking that my first thought was that perhaps sometimes N. 'Barre Hellquist' (a naturally occurring form) could self-pollinate or there could have been a contamination of the pollen. The first never happened before (selfing) and I doubted a contamination as it never happened to me. Another fact led me to think that I may be on the right track: Dr. Barre Hellquist, who not only grows but also collected this Anecphya form/species in Australia, had previously informed me that he did obtain seeds when he tried this cross with another N. lotus form. He germinated a few of those seeds, but could not grow any of his seedlings to maturity. And I'm not surprised. Getting the seeds was easy, but germinating them and growing them on was another business.

First day

Second day
As soon as the seeds were collected and cleaned, they were placed back in water at 32C (90F). Five to six months later, none had germinated. I even forgot about them for a while, and hope was lost. However I kept them in a zip-lock bag in the same temperature conditions. Then, during a sunny spell and under the influence of "longer than usual" periodic artificial lighting, three seeds germinated. Two were deformed from the moment of birth -- not a filiform but two small tiny leaves that had the shape of Mickey Mouse ears. Not much hope for those; they died in less than a week.
However the third one grew a filiform and, more amazingly, up to five submerged leaves. Those were unusual for being an Anecphya and resembled, in my opinion, seedlings of the night bloomer N. rudgeana (subgenus Hydrocallys). This made me suspect that perhaps I had in front of me an intersubgeneric hybrid. However, this plant was growing very slowly, and then growth came to a halt. A few days later the seedling melted away.

Third day
This encouraged me to keep monitoring the seed bag, to try to spot new germinations. About a week after the last seedling died (15.10.08) another germination had taken place. This was greener, grew a filiform, then a hastate and then a larger hastate. But those looked more or less like any large seeded Anecphya species. When it grew a larger submerged leaf, the shock came: this leaf had large reddish markings, rhomboid in shape, typical of N. lotus. This wasn't a proof as conclusive as a DNA test, but having grown hundreds of Anecphya seedlings from about a dozen of species/forms and having raised more than a dozen intersubgeneric crosses that involved an Anecphya as pod parent and, having never seen anything like that, I started to suspect that I had a "special one".

This seedling grew fast and, after about five weeks, it had floating leaves 10cm (4") across. Shape and spotting patterns of both upper and undersides were showing traits that are commonly found in subgenus Lotos but not in Anecphya. I was convinced that I had a novelty to look forward to seeing bloom. Two and a half months after germinating, on New Year's Day, I could see a small bud visible deep in the growing point at soil level. It finally opened on 16 January 2009.  

Fourth or fifth day 

Comparison with the Parents

 Pod parent
N. 'Barre Hellquist'
Selection of subgenus Anecphya species to be determined

Nymphaea 'Kew's
Electric Indigo'

 Pollen parent
 N. lotus
Subgenus Lotos







More images of N. 'Kew's Electric Indigo' >

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents
Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening