The first time I saw the underside of an Amazon water lily, I couldn’t stop staring. It’s really cool, and that’s what you see in the picture above. It’s quite a structure.
So, why is this plant species so awesome?
- Size and support (staying afloat)
- Defensive spines
- Capturing light
- Flower pollination
The lily pads have tremendous buoyancy from a web-like structure of veins and those are all filled with air. The leaf pads can even support the weight of a well balanced adult. The leaves drain excess surface water with notches at the edge of each leaf can grow to be 2.6 metres (almost 9 feet) across. You can actually hop from one to another.
The lily is well defended from fish and other animals by sharp spines on the flower buds, leaf stalks, and underside of leaves. In contrast, the leaf surface feels smooth to touch and slightly rubbery.
The giant lily leaves are a red color on the underside. This lets the lily capture different wavelengths of light, particularly in lower light levels.
The pure-white flowers open during the evening with a pineapple-like fragrance. A chemical reaction inside the flower heats the bloom to as much as 12°C (20°F) above the ambient temperature, helping to disperse the perfume and attract the scarab beetle pollinator (Cylocephata castaneal). This flower is initially female and receptive to pollen carried by a beetle from another flower.
As daylight approaches the flower shuts, trapping the beetle. During the day, the flower becomes male and produces pollen that coats the beetle as it tries to escape. The flower reopens the following evening as a dark pink. This color is unattractive the pollen-coated beetle which travels to another white flower.