In 2004 I walked into the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Hilo, Hawaii,
the first time. I saw this large waterlily in the pond near
the front entrance. Its huge leaves reached 3 feet (91 centimeters)
in diameter and the blooms were as large as 6 inches (15 centimeters)
across. Its leaf rims rose out of water several inches in height.
Without a doubt, I told myself, it must be the queen of the waterlily
world. I learned later that it originated in Amazonia in Brazil.
It took English horticulturists many years to cultivate it and
for it to produce its first flower. The grower named it after
After I joined the Big Island Garden Club, I learned that in
2002 the manager of Hilo Botanic Garden, Sean Callahan, germinated
a Victoria Longwood Hybrid seed. He took the young
plant to Hilo Zoo Pond. The Big Island Water Garden Club was
doing the pond maintenance. The center of attention was of course
the Victoria. It was five times bigger than all other waterlilies.
Its dark green pads covered a large area of the pond. Its large
flowers came out silky white in color the first day and would
change into rosy pink the second day. In 2006 Roger Pflum and
I volunteered to do the routine pond maintenance. We got in the
4 foot (1.2 meter) deep water with our fishing waders. We cleaned
and fertilized the giant waterlily monthly.
Soon we found out two things. First, it was rather dangerous
to get near the Victoria. Its one-inch long sharp spines covered
the plant stems and undersides of the pads. Working near the
plant for a few minutes, our waterproof suits were no longer
waterproof. The spines would puncture through our skin without
any problem. Maybe that is the way the plants protect themselves
from piranhas in Amazonia. The second thing we found was that
the Victoria is supposed to be an annual plant. In other words,
it dies in wintertime. Our Victoria was four years old and still
alive. Wow, Roger and I said to each other. We
have something special here. We gave the plant the name
Old Faithful. We transplanted the Victoria to a 20-gallon
pot and added more fertilizer. Its pads reached 46 inches (117
centimeters) in size. Its flowers reached 8 inches (20 centimeters)
2007 was a cold winter. I took the plant home and kept it
alive through the winter in my warm-water pond. 2008 was a great
year. Old Faithful gave us more flowers than ever. More and
more people traveled many miles just to see it.
2009 was one of the coldest winters ever in Hilo, 55 degrees
F (13 C). Old Faithful kept shrinking smaller and smaller. In
January, when its pads diminished to 6 inches (15 centimeters)
in diameter, I took it home and put it in my heated pond. It
stayed alive but never recovered. April 15, 2009, the last tiny
pad melted away. Old Faithful was gone. She lived over seven
years. It made her one of the longest living Victorias on record.
Maybe it is because of the nice warm weather of Hilo or because
of our TLC, she lived seven times longer than most. She made
us realize that even everything has its time and limit but, once
in a while, a miracle does happen.