top of page

🇬🇧 The Naturalist Guide in the field: The Giant water-lily

Well known for being one of the largest aquatic plants in the world, with leaves that can reach 2 meters in diameter and that can hold up to 40 kg!

Uakari Lodge | Mamirauá Reserve | Amazon Brazil

It is impossible to think of any Amazonian scenario without the presence of the beautiful Giant water-lily (Victoria amazonica). As the Amazon is a land of giants, plants would not be left out. Some famous photos of the plant show children on top of the large discs that emerge from the calm and muddy waters of the Amazon Basin.

The pollinating process of water lilies is very specific (and therefore very interesting!) Since it is carried out only by beetles of the genus Cyclocephala. The white flowers (which appear during the peak of the flood, when the water reaches the inland lakes) open at dusk and spend the night open, attracting the beetles thanks to the emission of heat and a strong aroma. Have you heard of the night-blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum)? If so, you know that it gets its name for exhaling a strong perfume at night, in this case to attract moths, and perhaps you know that it is also a white flower, the light color facilitates the identification at night being common in plants that are pollinated nocturnal animals (beetles, moths, bats). The two plants therefore have a very similar mechanism for attracting pollinators.

Back to the Giant water-lily: once the beetle is attracted, the flower closes and the insect will remain trapped in it until the next night (no worries! You do not need to feel sorry for the bug, it also benefits in the process and is eating a kind of starch provided by flower 😀). When the flower opens again in the next twilight, the beetle is released and will carry the collected pollen to another flower later. The flowers already visited by the insect, no longer produce aroma and their petals become reddish-pink so as not to attract new pollinators. Then the flower will sink while the seeds mature and then they will be dispersed by the current.

Uakari Lodge | Mamirauá Reserve | Amazon Brazil

The Legend of Jaci

There is also an indigenous legend (sad but beautiful at the same time) about the plant. It is said that a beautiful indigenous woman named Naiá fell in love with the god Jaci (the Moon). He often went down to Earth and took some girls with him and turned them into stars to keep him company. Naiá dreamed of the day when the god would call her. The young woman rejected all the others, even the bravest warriors, who tried to court her and went to admire her beloved Jaci every night. On one of these occasions, the girl, seeing the beautiful reflection of moonlight on the edge of a lake, imagined that the god had descended to bathe and threw herself towards him, but ended up drowning. Jaci then, seeing the situation of Naiá and showing compassion, decided to transform her into a star of the waters, a water lily, whose flower opens as soon as Jaci appears in the skies.


Credits (images and text): Cynthia Lebrão


bottom of page