Walter Pagels

Introduction to
the Australian Subgenus
of Waterlilies

by Walter Pagels
Images by Kit Knotts - Click to enlarge

The native waterlilies of Australia are not often found in cultivation, largely because the whole group is more sensitive to the cold than other tropical waterlilies. They belong to the Nymphaea subgenus Anecphya. The members of the group look so similar that they were all originally to be varieties of the type species Nymphaea gigantea. Now, some botanists have started to convert the varieties into a number of separate species. Nymphaea immutabilis is separated from the type species N. gigantea in that N. immutabilis flower petals usually do not fade with age, while the type species petals generally do (a tough call when you are faced with a white flower N. gigantea or N. immutabilis). Other species formerly associated with N. gigantea are now: N. macrosperma (flowers smaller with fewer petals), N. atrans (petals darken to maroon with maturity) and N. violacea (flowers without a gap between the petals and stamens). As the Australian wetlands are now being more thoroughly explored, more species will undoubtedly be identified as time goes on.

N. gigantea

The southernmost growing waterlily of the group is N. gigantea. The location is in the streams surrounding Grafton, New South Wales. This species extends northward to about Rockhampton, Queensland, where we also find the southern limits of Nymphaea immutabilis. Some merging between the two species is probable here.

Because of the heat requirements of the Anecphya group of waterlilies, there are no native waterlilies in the more temperate regions of Australia. There is, however, an introduced species, Nymphaea capensis, which has taken over much of the unclaimed waters of New South Wales. It is now making headway into the areas formerly dominated by Nymphaea gigantea. In my last trip to Australia (March 2006), I found that a creek in New SouthWales that once contained only N. gigantea is now over half populated with N. capensis.

N. immutabilis
All waterlilies in the Anecphya subgenus are difficult to grow in cultivation because they are not tolerant of anything that is different from what they have become adapted to in their natural environment. Everyone knows how hot it gets in the Australian outback, and the waterlilies have grown to require it. This is one of the major problems with this group. Young plants, when subjected to a short period of cooler temperature, promptly go into dormancy. Because of this touchy nature of the Anecphya subgenus, most growers and dealers will not handle them. They are occasionally found in collections.

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