Picture courtesy of Edward Cobb

Victoria Lily blooms in Cornell's Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium

September 30, 2016

Vibrant Victoria Lily Blooms on Campus

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With packed schedules consisting of back to back lectures, studying for prelims, clubs, sports and part-time jobs, Cornell students are always on the move. Among this hustle and bustle of campus life, a moment of serenity is immensely valuable. Sometimes considered a zoo of plants, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium is a special oasis to escape the busy life on campus and appreciate the biodiversity of the world.

Maintained by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, the hortorium consists of several conservatory houses in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. This past summer, a plant in the Nymphaeaceae family, commonly known as the Victoria lily, was moved the Palm House and is now a waterfall feature. Grown from seed by horticulture student Miles Schwartz Sax grad, in spring of 2015, the Victoria lily is a very large and strong plant. The cultivar being grown in the conservatory is a cross between South American natives V. cruziana and V. amazonica.

On Sept. 2, the Victoria lily began its dramatic blossoming, which lasts two days as the petals move from white to purple. The plant is housed in the southwest corner of the Palm House and flowers approximately every week. On Sept. 29, another bud blossomed before nightfall at 7:30 p.m. The bloom time for the lily is quite short lasting only about 48 hours but is pivotal to its lifespan.

The blossoming involves a complicated pollination system in which a distinct pineapple-like odor is released to attract pollinators to reproduce the plant. As the flower opens, its female parts are ready to receive the pollen of another lily through beetles which become trapped inside. Once the anthers, or male parts, mature and release pollen the beetles are freed. The change of color from white to purple is a signal to beetles that pollination is no longer needed.

The conservatory is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to the public for viewing of the lily and other plants. Additionally, time lapse videos of the blossoming are available online.