Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keeping Cool Among the Water Lilies

by Katherine King, Intern

Katie was recently chosen from eight finalists as our 2010 intern, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Shades Valley. From Bristol, Tennessee, Katie is a recent graduate of Samford University with a B.S. in biology--she has even studied botany in Belize (are you as jealous as we are?)! The internship gives a rising senior or recent college graduate hands-on experience with greenhouse production, planting, grounds maintenance, arboriculture, pest management, curatorial aspects of plant collections and garden display/design.

The contentment I find in watching the dragonflies zip from one water lily blossom to another in the Kayser Water Lily Pool of the Hill Garden at  Birmingham Botanical Gardens can almost make me forget about the sweltering heat I’m baking in, and you can bet I’ve thought about dipping my toes in the foot-deep pond a time or two. 

Water lilies are in the family, Nymphaeaceae, distributed worldwide, consisting of about seventy species in eight genera. In the Kayser Pool, all species are of the genus Nymphaea. Specifically, the pool contains the following cultivars (a cultivar is a plant variety selected for certain characteristics, such as form and flower color): ‘Pink capensis,’ ‘Director George T. Moore’ (pictured above), ‘Antares,’ ‘Green smoke,’ and ‘Albert Greenburg.’

Water lilies are perennial herbs that grow in freshwater temperate or tropical climates. The leaves and flowers float on the surface, connected to the roots by long flexible stems. Their large round leaves have a notch extending their radius of the Nymphaea and Nuphar genus’, but are perfectly rounded in the Victoria genus (notice the rounded leaf of the Victoria regia pictured left from The Gardens' Sonat Lake). The function of the notch, however, is unknown. The large leaves function in a similar manner as the canopy tree layer in the rainforest. The large leaves float on the water surface and collect the maximum amount of sunlight for food production for the remainder of the plant beneath the surface. Nymphaeaceae contains tropical species that bloom both day and night and cold-hardy species that bloom only during the day.

Research on the classification of Nymphaeaceae historically has demonstrated a divergence from an early group of angiosperms. Morphologically, water lilies seem to belong to the monocoltyledons, which have scattered vascular bundles and flower parts in multiples of three. However, their pinnate leaf venation seems to place them among dicotyledons. Unfortunately, the placement is the cause of constant disagreement among taxonomists – but what isn’t argued over in plant taxonomy?

The genus Victoria contains the largest species, with leaves growing up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) in diameter, large enough to support the weight of a small child! Unfortunately, we’d have to plan an excursion to the Amazon to get a sight of those beauties.

The lily pool was given to The Gardens by Leo Kayser in 1998 in memory of his late wife, Simmie. The fourth annual Cocktails at The Gardens will take place in the Hill Garden surrounding the beautiful lily pool, so make sure to join us on August 12, September 9 and October 14th! Pictured on the right is the cultivar ‘Albert Greenburg,’ also found in the Hill Garden.

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