Monday, 27 July 2009

New Plant Finds - Part 3

Hybrid Water-Lilies
Near Jackson’s Boat, on the Sale side of the river, there is an outflow channel which links a sluice gate on the Mersey with Sale Water Park. When the river gets too high the sluice gate opens and the flood water flows down the channel to the Water Park. In years of high rainfall this can happen several times a year – especially during the winter months.

Flooding, of course, is now generally regarded as undesirable and something to be prevented at all costs. But the fact that rivers like the Mersey carry huge volumes of water to the sea and regularly threaten to overflow their banks (and sometimes do so) is an inescapable fact of life and cannot be ignored. In the old days, before our culture decided that the environment was only there to be ruthlessly exploited and to be ignored the rest of the time, local farmers made good use of flooding (ref. 1) and installed sluice gates in the river banks so that silt could be deposited on their land and enrich it during times when the river was high.

I am convinced that flooding was, and to a more limited extent still is, an important factor contributing to the biodiversity of the Mersey Valley. Every year I find plants, in the vicinity of the river, the seeds, roots, rhizomes and corms of which, I believe, could only have been deposited via flood waters. The Sale outflow channel, mentioned above, regularly carries large volumes of flood water and is consequently one of the richest sites for wild plants in this central part of the Mersey Valley; it is particularly rich in aquatic and marginal plants.

In the spring of this year I noticed some Water-lily leaves, in one of the deeper parts of the channel, and waited rather impatiently for flowers to appear. I assumed that they would turn out to be our native species of Water-lily (Nymphaea alba) - which has white flowers. When the flowers did finally appear, in early July, they were red, not white. This means that the plant is almost certainly an artificial hybrid which has escaped from cultivation. A piece of the rhizome has been deliberately thrown out, or accidentally lost, from a garden pond (or larger body of water) and has ended up ‘in the wild’. Whether it entered the Sale outflow channel in a winter flood or was directly put there is anybody’s guess.

It would appear that most Water-lilies of this type were developed, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by a French horticulturalist, Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, and are often called ‘Marliacea Hybrids’. Apparently he was rather secretive about his methods but may have used N. alba and the American species N. odora as the bases for his creations (ref. 2). I think that there is a good chance that the plants in the outflow channel may be the Marliacea Hybrid, ‘Escarboucle’ – but I can’t be sure about that (does anyone out there know anything about hybrid Water-lilies?).

The most famous depictions of Water-lilies are, of course, those of the French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840 – 1926). Monet produced a long series of 250 paintings of these beautiful plants which he grew in a large pond in his garden at Giverny, which is 80 km west of Paris. Although Monet was not primarily concerned with accurate botanical depictions of his plants, inspection of reproductions of his paintings (I’ve not seen the originals) suggest that he grew Marliacea Hybrids – some of which were red in colour like the one in Sale outflow channel. How marvellous to think that, by chance, a winter flood may have brought a reminder of Monet’s garden to a corner of Sale!

Dave Bishop, July 2009


1. 'Mersey Floods' by Andrew Simpson, FoCM Blog 02.06.2009.

2. ‘Reader’s Digest Encyclopaedia Of Garden Plants And Flowers’ Ed. Roy Hay and Kenneth A. Beckett, The Readers Digest Association, 1971.

3. Wikipedia Article on Water Lilies: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_Lilies

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