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Through the end of October, visitors to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville can see one of the true oddities of the floral world: the giant Victoria water lily.

The perfectly round leaves of these plants can attain a diameter of 6 feet, and the upturned rim gives them the appearance of pie plates. "Water Platter" is a fitting alternative name.

The Victoria's huge flowers are white when they open, but in the course of a single day they turn pink and then maroon.

They're ferocious plants. All their underwater surfaces - leaves, stalks and buds - are covered with fierce protective spines. Garden workers must protect themselves with leather gloves. The spines defend the plant from fish and turtles, which love the taste of the Victoria.

The Victoria grows annually from seeds, which are germinated in heated aquariums, grown in gallon pots, and planted outdoors inside protective fences in April. They grow rapidly: "You can practically stand and watch them grow," said Donald Goodman, director of the gardens. They're killed by the first frost.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a 62-acre garden in Gainesville operated by the North Florida Botanical Society. It exhibits 14 major gardens, including the largest herb garden in the Southeast and the state's largest display of bamboos.

LOOK AT THE LILIES

WHAT: Display of giant Victoria water lilies.

WHERE: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, a 62-acre garden in Gainesville.

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and 9 a.m. to dusk Saturday and Sunday; closed Thursday.

DIRECTIONS: The gardens are at 4700 SW 58th Drive, Gainesville. Enter on SW Archer Road (State Road 24), 1 mile west of Interstate 75 (Exit 384).

ADMISSION: adults $5, children 6 to 13, $3; 5 and younger free.

INFORMATION: (352) 372-4981; www.kanapaha.org

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