The Saga of
Blue Beauty
By Walter Pagels
Click images to enlarge

Photo & © by Perry D. Slocum

Walter Pagels is a noted collector of and authority on aquatic plants. He is Librarian of the IWGS and the historian that we all rely upon to unravel the mysteries of the past.

The Saga of Blue Beauty began when Kit Knotts answered an inquiry to the IWGS email list as to where the waterlily N. 'Pennsylvania' can be found.

"'Pennsylvania' is a synonym of 'Blue Beauty.' According to Masters' Encyclopedia of the Water-Lily page 453, 'two beautiful and identical waterlilies were developed ... William Tricker came out with his hybrid which he named Pulcherrima and shortly afterward, Henry Conard introduced his blue water-lily which he named Pennsylvania. As the two "lilies" were indistinguishable, the American Committee on Nomenclature gave them the name Blue Beauty.'

"'Blue Beauty' is available in the trade, though it seems there are two slightly different forms, one with the interior of the sepals being very light and the other with the interior of the sepals more the color of the flower. According to Bill Frase, the first is the Tricker version and the second the Conard version."

I want to add a comment to Kit's letter which will illustrate the dilemma that the Registrar for the Genus Nymphaea will have to face when given historical facts. It will show how a well-known cultivar name gets switched to a different waterlily after a century of use and how the meanings of original statements get twisted as they are repeated in sequential publications through the years.

Notice in Kit's first paragraph she quotes from Charles Masters' 1974 book "Encyclopedia of the Water Lily" that states that the two waterlilies Pulcherrima and Pennsylvania are "identical blue water-lilies" and that "As the two lilies were indistinguishable, the American Committee on Nomenclature gave them the name Blue Beauty." Yet, in Kit's second paragraph, she notes that it seems that there are two different forms of N. 'Blue Beauty' available in the trade, and that Bill Frase [who has been around longer than most of us and knows waterlily history] was able to distinguish them as "the first is the Tricker version and the second the Conard version." This is not exactly "identical" or "indistinguishable" as given in Charles Masters' book. How did this difference come about? It is a long story.

To start from the beginning:

In the late 1800s, William Tricker, one of America's early commercial waterlily growers, maintained a large stock of tropical waterlilies at his growing grounds. These waterlilies are very fertile and many seedlings were produced. One of these seedlings was named Nymphaea pulcherrima and was described in William Tricker's 1897 book "The Water Garden" as a "Garden hybrid of American origin".

In 1899, Henry Conard, a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy in Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, was looking for a doctoral project. A professor at the university suggested that he could dig out the parentage of some of the hybrid waterlilies that were then being introduced into water gardens everywhere. Latour-Marliac was the hybridizer who was making the most notable progress, but he didn't make plain what the parent species were. Since hybrids were thought to have characteristics intermediate
N. caerulea
Craig Presnell Photo

between the two parents, a study of waterlilies at the species level should enable the determination of the parents.

In order to test this hypothesis, Henry Conard selected two waterlily species to hybridize that had an easily recognizable difference between them. One of the species, N. caerulea, had spots and stripes on the sepals, but the other, N. zanzibariensis, had none. The cross pollination he made was successful and seeds were harvested and planted.

 When the hybrid seedlings matured and flowered, it was found that the sepals had more and darker stripes than the parent N. caerulea. That negated the "intermediate characteristics" theory of hybrids. Nonetheless, the hybrids were generally larger and more vigorous than either parent which gave them sufficient horticultural value to warrant them for further evaluation. He picked the best waterlily of the lot and named it N. 'Pennsylvania' after his university.

It was described in an article in the November 2, 1901, issue of American Gardening Magazine. Conard also continued his work on the biology and taxonomy of the Genus Nymphaea for his Doctorate Thesis. This complete work was published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1905 as a monograph titled "The Waterlilies".

The purple form of N. capensis, formerly known as N. zanzibariensis
Kit Knotts Photo

An early book containing detailed descriptions of both the Tricker and Conard hybrids was "The Culture of Water Lilies and Aquatic Plants" by Peter Henderson in 1906. It described the two waterlilies as follows:

N. PULCHERRIMA. A beautiful hybrid of N. caerulea; under surface of leaves green, densely blotched with purplish-black, margin purplish red. Flowers light blue, 10 to 12 inches across; stamens yellow, buds sharply conical, sepals marked with black lines and dots. This variety flowers continuously winter and summer, and is the best for furnishing flowers early and late in the season.

N. PENNSYLVANIA. A new hybrid originating in the botanical department of the University of Pennsylvania and which is aptly described as an improved N. pulcherrima possessing all of the good qualities of that grand, free and continuous blooming Nymphaea, but the flowers of N. Pennsylvania are much larger and of a deeper, richer blue.

In the first William Tricker, Inc. catalog (1912), these two waterlilies are described as follows:

N. pulcherrima. A most beautiful hybrid Water Lily of great merit; flowers light blue, 10 to 12 inches across; stamens yellow, sepals marked with black lines and dots, as are also the leaves on the under surface; free and continuous bloomer; one of the best Lilies. $2.00 each.

N. Pennsylvania. An improved N. pulcherrima, the flower being much larger in size and of a deeper, richer blue; possessing all the good points of that grand free and continuous flowering blue Nymphaea. $2.50 each.

In subsequent catalogs the genus no longer precedes the cultivar epithet, but the descriptions and prices remained the same until 1921 when a colored painting of N. 'Pulcherrima' was put on the cover of the Tricker Catalog. The description of N. 'Pulcherrima' did not change, but the description of N. 'Pennsylvania' now reads:

Pennsylvania. This is, in reality, simply an improvement on Pulcherrima, but while possessing all the good points of this excellent variety, it surpasses it in size of flowers, which are also a deeper shade of blue. $2.50 each.

{An ambiguous description indeed.}

In 1922, the N. pulcherrima painting appears on the back cover of the Tricker catalog.

In 1923 and 1924, the N. pulcherrima painting is not included in the Tricker catalog.

In 1925 the waterlily name N. pulcherrima is changed to 'Blue Beauty' (N. pulcherrima).

At the time when N. pulcherrima was first named, it was common practice to name hybrids with a pseudoscientific Latinized name. We see this also with many of the Marliac hybrids originating during that time period, such as N. Marliacea chromatella, N. odorata sulphurea, N. tulipiformis, N. pygmaea rubra and N. atropurpurea. In the tropical waterlilies we see N. Daubeniana, N. devoniensis and N. Sturtiventii. However, by 1923 the American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature preferred the practice of calling hybrids and other horticultural varieties by distinctive non-Latinized names. Consequently, N. 'Blue Beauty', a close translation of Pulcherrima, was suggested as an alternate and preferred name. This suggestion was published for the first time in "STANDARDIZED PLANT NAMES, A Catalogue of Approved Scientific and Common Names of Plants in American Commerce," first published December 1, 1923.

Suggested names for other waterlilies in this book were White Marliac for Marliacea albida, Yellow Marliac for Marliacea chromatella, Laydeker Purple for laydekeri purpurea, Gladstone for gladstoniana, Glory for gloriosa, Juno for dentata superba, and Dauben for daubeniana. Of course, changing names such as this was not mandatory, and from the list given above, it can be recognized that many of the original Latinized names still are in use today.

Nonetheless, many of us notice that some of these suggested changes have appeared in catalogs. Indeed, some growers enthusiastically used their own inventive name changes in catalogs, such as N. 'Snowball' for N. 'Gonnere', N. 'Aflame' for N. 'Escarboucle' and N. 'Golden Cup' for N. 'Chromatella'. Needless to say, most of these alternate names stayed only within the originator's catalogs.

In 1926 and 1927 the N. pulcherrima painting reappears in the Tricker catalog, except it is now titled Blue Beauty. In the catalog verbal listing of waterlilies we find "Blue Beauty (N. pulcherrima)" followed by the same description and price {$2.00} as before. N. Pennsylvania is still Pennsylvania with the same description and price ($2.50).

{The 16 years of constant price illustrates the good old days of zero inflation}.

In 1928, we find this waterlily name and description changed in the Tricker catalog:

BLUE BEAUTY (or Pennsylvania). Deep blue flowers a foot across and producing very freely. The yellow stamens form a pleasing contrast to the petals. Sepals marked with purple lines and dots. The leaves are slightly speckled with brown above; beneath the ground color is red-purple at the edge, shading to pale green centers. Desirable in a small pool or tub. Very choice but popularly priced. (See colored illustration inside front cover) Our best seller. 2.50.

The illustration is the same illustration that was use previously for N. pulcherrima. No mention of N. pulcherrima is made anywhere in the 1928 catalog.

The changed name "Blue beauty (or Pennsylvania)" along with the N. pulcherrima illustration was used by the Tricker company until 1953, when it eliminated the reference to N. 'Pennsylvania.' The 1953 description now reads:

BLUE BEAUTY. An old variety but still our greatest seller. Flowers of good size in a fine shade of blue. Be sure to include it. (Note: The same 1926 painting of N. pulcherrima is still used for the illustration)

This description remained the same for the next 34 years until 1987. By this time the two Tricker business locations were being operated by new owners. The New Jersey operation was renamed Waterford Gardens while the Ohio operation continued with the name William Tricker, Inc.

When, in 1928, the William Tricker Company unilaterally changed the synonym of N. 'Blue Beauty' from N. pulcherrima to N. 'Pennsylvania', it caused considerable confusion for water gardening book authors. Nonetheless, book writers at the time had to address the problem. Robert Sawyer, in the first edition (1928) of his book "Water Gardens and Goldfish", had given separate listings for Blue Beauty (Pulcherrima) and Pennsylvania. In his second edition (1934), he gave only one listing: N. Blue Beauty, with the parenthetic "also called Pennsylvania or pulcherrima". G. L. Thomas, Jr., in his book "Garden Pools, Water-lilies, and Goldfish" also gave it one listing as: "Blue Beauty--Often listed as Pennsylvania or N. Pulcherrima".

In the second edition of "Standardized Plant Names" (1942) the book still states that N. 'Blue Beauty' is the approved horticultural name for N. 'Pulcherrima', but now gives N. 'Pulcherrima' as a synonym for N. 'Pennsylvania'. That they did this is surprising because in a note preceding the Waterlily listing of names we find the following acknowledgment: "In the preparation of this list the Editorial Committee had the benefit of constructive criticism and suggestions from two outstanding authorities on these genera, G. H. Pring, Supt. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Mo., and Henry S. Conard, Professor of Botany, Grinnell College, Iowa. To both the Committee extends its appreciation and sincere thanks."

The only explanation that seems plausible (that such an error would get by those authorities) is that Pring and Conard either did not see the final proofs of the names listed, or their advice in this respect was ignored. Both men are now no longer of this world, so it is impossible to get their
views on this subject.

From this time on, the course was set: N. 'Blue Beauty' became more and more identified with N. 'Pennsylvania'. William Innes in his 1948 book "Goldfish Varieties and Water Gardens" had this to say about 'Blue Beauty':

This large-flowered variety has many admirers, gathered and kept through the years. The illustration speaks pretty well for itself, except that the blue should perhaps be a shade more towards lilac. It is from the Tricker catalog, and is one of the better commercial illustrations. The variety is believed to be a cross between N. coerulea and N. zanzibariensis, produced both at the botanical gardens of the University of Pennsylvania and by William Tricker, then in the employ of Dreer. The former came to be known as "Pennsylvania" and the latter as "Pulcherrima". As the two were practically indistinguishable, the American Committee on Nomenclature called them "Blue Beauty"

By the time Charles Masters published his book in 1974: "Encyclopedia of the Water-Lily", most waterlily catalogs used N. 'Pennsylvania' as a synonym for N. 'Blue Beauty'. But in Masters' description of N. 'Blue Beauty' he says:

Almost simultaneously, two beautiful and identical blue water-lilies were developed in the United States. Both were the result of a cross between Nymphaea caerulea and N. capensis zanzibariensis. William Tricker, employed by the Henry Dreer Nurseries in 1897, came out with his hybrid which he named Pulcherrima and shortly afterward, Henry Conard at the Botanic Gardens, University of Pennsylvania, introduced his blue water-lily which he named Pennsylvania. As the two "Lilies" were indistinguishable, the American Committee on Nomenclature gave them the name Blue Beauty.

Notice the similarity of this paragraph with the Innes version of events. However, now Masters begins with the two hybrids being "identical" (which Innes never claimed) and left out the word "almost" in front of the word "indistinguishable". Thus we see how two separate and distinctly different waterlily hybrids are transferred little by little into "identical" waterlilies by the subtle changes in interpretations of sequential publications on the same subject.

But the story does not end there.

After Wm. Tricker, Inc. was sold, the listing for N. 'Blue Beauty' in the 1987 catalog was changed to read:

BLUE BEAUTY. A hybrid developed by William Tricker (formerly named Pulcherrima). Blossoms are deep blue, have a spicy fragrance and stand six to eight inches above the water's surface.

However, the original N. 'Blue Beauty' syn N. 'Pulcherrima' had not been in the trade for 60 years (since 1927). The flower in the 1987 catalog is described as "deep blue" while the original description for N. 'Pulcherrima' (from 1897 to 1927) was "light blue". The 1987 waterlily was clearly the one which originated with Henry Conard and named N. 'Pennsylvania', but now had its name changed to N. Blue Beauty (formerly named pulcherrima) so it could be attributed to William Tricker as the originator.

In 1991, the Tricker company added N. 'Pennsylvania' (which they imported from a grower in Australia) to its catalog. This 'new' N. 'Pennsylvania' and N. 'Blue Beauty' were both described as having "deep blue flowers".

In 1999 the Tricker Company revised the catalog descriptions of the two waterlilies so that now the flower color for N. 'Blue Beauty' is simply "blue" while that of N. 'Pennsylvania' is a "rich deep blue".

Other retail catalogs give various flower color descriptions for 'Blue Beauty', such as "sky blue", "medium blue", and "deep blue". Most catalogs now only list 'Blue Beauty' with no synonym or originator, but one catalog plays it safe and gives (Tricker / Conard) as the originator.

That is how the matter stands today, in the year 2002.


1) The original waterlilies, N. 'Pulcherrima' and N. 'Pennsylvania' were two distinctively different hybrids.

2) In 1925 the waterlily N. 'Pulcherrima' had its name changed to N. 'Blue Beauty' by the Tricker Company at the suggestion of the American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature.

3) In 1928 the name N. 'Blue Beauty' was unilaterally changed as a synonym for N. 'Pennsylvania' by the Tricker Company.

4) As time went on, more and more waterlily growers, sellers and book writers were using the name Blue Beauty as a synonym for N. 'Pennsylvania'.

5) By 1953 the Tricker Company dropped N. 'Pennsylvania' as being a synonym for N. 'Blue Beauty'.

6) In 1987, the Tricker Company under new ownership revived the name N. 'pulcherrima' as a synonym for N. 'Blue Beauty'

7) In 1991, the Tricker Company lists N. 'Blue Beauty' (synonym N. pulcherrima) and N. 'Pennsylvania' as two separate waterlilies in their catalog.

8) The majority of growers and sellers other than the Tricker Company still utilize the name N. 'Blue Beauty' as a synonym for N. 'Pennsylvania'.

Note - The forms of expressing the above names/epithets are given as found in the original literature. In his comments, Walter uses current rules in accordance with the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.

Walter Pagels - Profile

Other Articles by Walter Pagels

 Tuber Production of Tropical Waterlilies

 'Mrs. Robert Sawyer' or 'Independence'?
 Waterlily Chromosome Counts

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