The Miracle Man's

Miracle Plant

The world's first documented hybrid between two subgenera of Nymphaea

By Kit Knotts, Photos by William Phillips and Michael Phillips
Click images to enlarge

Easter Sunday of 2002, William Phillips sent friends the first pictures of his new hybrid as a special greeting. Even though he included some information about the parents, we were all probably more taken by its beauty than by the prospect that it would make history.

It has proven to be the first documented hybrid between subgenera of Nymphaea ever, a feat previously considered impossible. The pod parent is N. 'Andre Leu' of the Australian subgenus Anecphya and the pollen parent is the white form of N. colorata (capensis) of the subgenus Brachyceras.

Pod parent N. 'Andre Leu',

The Miracle Plant,
N. 'William Phillips'

Pollen parent the white form
N. colorata (capensis)

Because the hybrid looked so promising, to William in person and to friends from images, this writer asked Dr. Donald H. Les, Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, The University of Connecticut, to perform DNA studies on the hybrid and its parents. In early May of 2002, the results were conclusive that this was indeed a true cross.

William related, "Dr. Les explained to me about the nuclear DNA markers in the hybrid which has one set that matches the pod parent and one set that matches the pollen parent. He said that he and all the people who had looked at the DNA markers were very impressed with how clearly they were expressed. They use a process that first identifies DNA marker regions that are unique to each parent. Hybridization is evidenced by the presence of both different parental markers in a single plant. This was the result obtained for material of the Anecphya/Brachyceras cross." The scientific details will be published by Dr. Les in an upcoming journal.

Andre Leu

William's love of and dedication to notoriously tricky Australian waterlilies is now legendary. The ponds in his Memphis, Tennessee, greenhouses are filled to overflowing with them and no one grows them better. This has allowed his remarkable collaboration with Australia's Andre Leu to flourish and to produce results far beyond anyone's experience or expectations.

Andre, a noted collector of wild Anecphya, has been able to provide William with seeds of many rare species, forms and colors including the possible new species from the Normanton area. It was from seed collected there that the fabulous deep pink cultivar 'Andre Leu' was grown.

William Phillips



 Some of the Anecphya plants William has grown and crossed from Andre's seeds -
from top left -
White gigantea that remains open 24 hours
Deep purple gigantea
Pink violacea
'Andre Leu' x gigantea 'Neorosea'
subsp. immutabilis

With the goal in mind of producing Australian lilies that are more reliable in cultivation for other growers, William has been able to make a wide variety of crosses between Anecphya types and dreamed of the possibility of a subgeneric cross that would bring Brachyceras robustness to the beauty of Anecphya. Though long considered an impossible cross, William was undaunted in attempts to produce it.

"I remember when he talked to me about trying this cross over lunch in Memphis last year (2001) in an effort to get more reliability into Anecphya. It is quite extraordinary to see that he has achieved the cross so quickly, " says Andre. "The flattened stamens and large colored anthers of this plant and another plant from the batch are not typical for any of the Anecphya that I have seen (I haven't seen all of them). They are more typical of the Brachyceras subgenus of Nymphaea."

It was this initial confidence in and support of the cross by Andre and several others that moved William to seek hard scientific evidence of its veracity. All were elated by the confirmation by Dr. Les. William, recipient of a heart transplant in 1996, (see The Miracle Man) soon shared the news with his transplant team.

"I was showing all the information and letters to my transplant doctors," William related. "I commented that it was probably my greatest accomplishment. One doctor said, "No, being alive is your greatest
accomplishment!' Every time I am excited about something in my life, they give me that reminder that being alive is the greatest success of all. Sometimes we forget. However, it is sort of like the riddle of the chicken and the egg...which came first? The beauty of the things we enjoy in life is what keeps us alive! If we can create beauty for the enjoyment of others and ourselves we will have a longer life and a better quality life."

The Miracle Man has produced a Miracle Plant that, at the urging of Andre Leu, this writer and others, will carry his name into the history books. The world's first proven intersubgeneric hybrid will be called Nymphaea 'William Phillips'.

More images of 'William Phillips' showing the unusual stamens and two first day flowers!

 William Phillips
The Miracle Man

Profile of
Andre Leu 

Field Collecting Australian
Water Lilies

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