April 22, 2024

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“It offers a calm water pond, with a mild temperature between 18 and 22ºC and protected from predators to spend the summer.” This could be an ad posted on a vacation rental website. In the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid, the pool already has tenants. They stay until the end of next October. They come from many different origins and attend to the names of Manuela, Detective Erika, Black Princess, Blue Goddess of the Forest, Innocence, Tiger, Dawn, Bangkok Snow, Peach Sunset either Long Key. And it is that the new collection of water lilies (Nymphaea spp.), Acquired last spring by the scientific institution, it is already installed in the garden ponds.

“The collection of water lilies is made up of more than 40 specimens of various species,” says Beatriz Perlines, director of the Botanical Workshop School. In order for them to spend the summer outdoors, two spaces have been conditioned: the sunny pond of the Bonsai Terrace and the large pond of the Plaza de Linnaeus, at the most illustrious crossroads of the garden layout. Perlines has been in charge of coordinating the underwater planting of the water lilies. Most have come from a nursery in Granada specialized in the cultivation of these aquatic beauties. Others were already in the garden, but under cover, and have been moved outside from the pools of the tropical greenhouse, where they spend the winter sheltered from low temperatures.

Perlines puts on his wading overalls and dives into the pond. Moving slowly among the plants, he tells that of the 60 species and 1,600 varieties of water lilies that exist in nature, the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) it’s his favourite. “Its leaves, its dazzling white or pink flower, the deep smell it gives off, its slender and upright stem… Everything about the so-called rose of the Nile is spectacular. It was revered in ancient Egypt and is a sacred plant in China and India, a symbol of purity for Buddhists, ”she details.

Beatriz Perlines, director of the Botanical Workshop School, coordinates the maintenance of the water lilies.
Beatriz Perlines, director of the Botanical Workshop School, coordinates the maintenance of the water lilies.

Also known as the water lily, the water lily is native to ponds, swamps, and lakes in Africa and Asia. There are rustic or perennial ones, which support cool climates and bloom in autumn. And tropical, which bloom in summer and do not survive in cold climates. In Spain, the white water lily (Nymphaea alba) It occurs in the wild in lagoons and wetlands. They are herbaceous rhizome, a fleshy stem that grows buried in the sediments of the aquatic bottom and from which the petioles of the leaves and the flower peduncles sprout. These can develop up to three meters in length and from them the floating leaves and flowers emerge on the surface. “The ideal habitat for water lilies is stagnant or slow-flowing fresh water, at a mild temperature and in a sunny place, since they need at least six hours a day of sun exposure to flower,” explains Perlines.

The maintenance of these aquatic perennials requires a minimum plan: “Remove the flowers that are already past and the leaves in decomposition; regularly apply slow-release fertilizer to the clayey substrate in which they are planted under water; monitor the presence of pests such as aphids, beetles or fungi; and remove any particles resting on the leaves to prevent them from burning ”, he lists. A brigade of minnows pool cleaners that filter the water, as well as several specimens of Alisma plantago-aquatica, a phytodepurative herbaceous that, in addition to providing texture between the rounded leaves of the water lilies, purifies the water. From time to time it is also necessary to free the stems that get entangled in the protective net that is placed covering the plants to prevent garden ducks from eating them.

Two gardeners of the Botanist during the planting of the water lilies in the Linnaeus pond.
Two gardeners of the Botanist during the planting of the water lilies in the Linnaeus pond.Royal Botanical Garden

A pond in technicolor

The flowering of the water lilies will reach its peak this August. Whites, yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, creams, mauves, violets… Some hybrids sport tabby leaves of different colors and flowers with gradients, speckled or two-tone, half and half, like tufts of a punk mane. Most of the water lilies are daytime flowering (it is recommended to visit the ponds from before noon to five in the afternoon to see the largest number of flowers open). For early risers and night owls, there are nocturnal varieties whose flowers open at sunset and close the next morning, such as the nymphaea ‘Missouri’, of delicate white nymphs.

Along with the spiritual lotus, favorite of Perlines, the lavish cruzian victory It is the water lily that catches the most glances. Originally from Argentina and Paraguay, it is one of the three species of the genus Victoria, the largest aquatic in nature (the others are the v. regia of the Amazon and the Bolivian v.). It is famous because in the wild its leaves are capable of supporting the weight of a child without sinking. In August, when it is in its fullness in the Madrid Botanical pond, the leaves of the Great Victoria Water Lily will reach more than a meter in diameter.

The Bonsai Terrace pond at sunset, in a photo from August 2022. In the center, the imposing leaves of Victoria cruziana.
The Bonsai Terrace pond at sunset, in a photo from August 2022. In the center, the imposing leaves of Victoria cruziana.

Another spectacle that deserves to be attentive is its flowering. It is as showy as it is ephemeral, as each nymph lives for only two days and permeates the atmosphere with a sweet aroma of ripe pineapple to attract the tropical beetle that will fertilize it. “During the first night the flower is white and female, ready to receive pollen. The second night is pink and masculine, and produces pollen”, explains the gardener. Then the flower closes and sinks forever. Hopefully, if it has been fertilized, it conceives a fruit that disseminates its seeds underwater. Another nymph is on the way.

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