Found in tropical savannah in the north-east of Bolivia, this Amazonian native has been found with leaves as big as three metres across, longer than two snooker cues. Despite their massive size, the leaves of the waterlily are incredibly strong and can support the weight of a small child.
The plant’s leaf strength is made possible by a complex network of veins that radiate out to the edges of the leaf. A spiky series of veins located on the underside of the leaf overlap in concentric circles connecting to the plant by a central stem. This geometric vascular system gives the species its unique structural integrity while maintaining elasticity and buoyancy needed to help keep the leaf shape.
Scientists that have studied the load bearing properties of these waterlilies highlight the opportunity for engineers to learn from its structure. The leaf could offer cost-effective solutions for floating platforms designed to assist with renewable energy production. The overlapping vein systems unique to the Victoria waterlily could be a source of inspiration for developing architectural rules for structures designed to efficiently manage weight loads.
Indigenous people have long understood the value of giant waterlilies. Also known as “auapé-yaponna”, locals have used the plant in medicine and hair dye, and the seeds as a source of food.
For waterlily experts attempting to categorise the species' seed shape, DNA samples and its unusual flower helped to set it apart from other Amazonian waterlily species, leading to it being categorised as a new species in 2022. The steering wheel sized flower blooms over two nights, just long enough to attract and capture an insect that it releases to pollinate other flowers.
With so many species still remaining undiscovered, the mind boggles at what treasures and giant opportunities still exist to learn from our exotic surroundings.
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