purple Nymphea waterlilies floating in water with green leaves

International Waterlily Competition Winners Now Blooming

By Kristina Aguilar, on

Longwood Gardens has a long history, starting in 1956, of growing the genus Nymphaea, commonly known as waterlilies. They are so special to Longwood that they were designated a core plant collection in our first and subsequent plant collections policies … plants comprising core collections are the highest priority at Longwood and central to our mission. This year, we’re showcasing spectacular waterlilies grown here at Longwood, as well as competition-winning hybrids judged by an international committee … bringing a world of beauty right to our Waterlily Display.

Each core collection, including our waterlily collection, has a curator that develops, manages, and cares for that collection. Our waterlily curator is Senior Horticulturist Tim Jennings, a nationally recognized expert in the field of growing waterlilies and Victoria giant water-platters, who has dedicated himself to growing our collection by leaps and bounds.

pink and yellow nymphaea waterlily

Nymphaea 'Paranee', 2018 Second Place Winner, Best New Hardy Waterlily. Photo by Jolisa Copeman.

Since core collections are held at such high standards, they are submitted for accreditation in the American Public Gardens Association’s Plant Collections Network. The Network stewards diverse and exceptional living collections at public gardens across North America to safeguard plant germplasm.  Longwood’s Waterlily Collection was nationally accredited in October of 2012. Since then, Jennings has been working to add diversity and grow the collection from 97 different types of waterlilies to the current 130.

One initiative that has helped greatly with growing our collection is the annual New Waterlily Competition, hosted by the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society. Under the guidance of Jennings, Longwood has served as the official site and grower for the competition from 2016 through 2018, and we’re so excited to integrate four winning hybrids from those competitions in this year’s display.

close up of purple waterlily bloom

Nymphaea 'Detective Erika', 2016 Winner, Best Overall Waterlily. Photo by William Hill.

Every year during the competition, hybridizers from around the world submit their newest creations that had been in the trade for less than one year to be judged in the overall goal of “hybridizing new colors, forms, and increased frequency of blooms of various sizes” of waterlilies. The genus Nymphaea is broken into subgenera.  The three main subgenera are Nymphaea (the hardy waterlilies), Lotos (the night-blooming tropical waterlilies) and Brachyceras (the day-blooming tropical waterlilies).  There are even waterlilies that are hybrids between the hardies and the day-blooming tropicals called intersubgenerics. Waterlilies from any of these categories can be entered into the competition. 

close up of pink Nymphaea waterlily flower

Nymphaea 'Pink Silk', 2017 First Place Winner, Best New Intersubgeneric Waterlily. Photo by Candie Ward.

Hybridizers sent their best creations to be grown at Longwood during an entire growing season in temporary waterlily pools specifically built for the competition, located offsite of the Waterlily Display. All the waterlilies were documented and photographed regularly, and the pictures and data were uploaded to a website for judging. A panel of international judges reviewed the various attributes of each plant and decided upon winners in three categories, as well as best overall.  

When submitting their applications to enter the competition, hybridizers were asked if they would like to donate their plants to Longwood’s collection after the competition had ended. We were lucky to acquire some of the outstanding winners from each year for display.

close up of purple waterlily bloom

Nymphaea 'Rassamee Jan', 2018 First Place Winner, Best New Tropical Waterlily. Photo by Jolisa Copeman.

This season, guests can see these standout competition winners:

  • Nymphaea ‘Detective Erika’, an intersubgeneric hybrid by Zijun-Li (China), awarded the best overall new waterlily in 2016

  • Nymphaea ‘Pink Silk', bred by Jakkaphong Sung-ngam (Thailand), awarded best new intersubgeneric waterlily in 2017

  • Nymphaea ‘Rassamee Jan’, bred by Mrs. Pojanee Thongbai (Thailand), awarded best new tropical waterlily in 2018

  • Nymphaea ‘Paranee’ bred by Miss Paranee Ampornsiri (Thailand), awarded second place in the best new hardy waterlily category in 2018

Come see these beauties in bloom throughout the summer! Inspired to learn more about our waterlilies … or try your hand at your own aquatic garden? Register for our free online open course, Everything about Aquatics.

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