LITTLETON - It starts at sunset with a large white bloom that almost glows as it emits heat and the scent of pineapple and bananas that can be smelled 20 to 30 feet away.
To witness the bloom of a Victoria lily is a rare experience in Colorado because the plants are from the tropics of South America and each flower lasts only 48 hours, with a white bloom the first night and a pink bloom the second.
Seven volunteers from the Colorado Water Gardens Society care for the Victoria lilies at Hudson Gardens in Littleton.
Dorothy Martinez is Hudson's lead water gardener.
"They're almost surreal, they really are," Martinez said. "But yes, they are very much real."
Hudson's first Victoria blooms of the year came this week, with the first Wednesday evening and the second Thursday night.
"The flowers put out such a heavy scent that if you put it up to your face... it's almost intoxicating," Martinez said. "They have photographed these flowers at night and they actually put off heat to send their scent out. They've photographed them with infrared cameras."
During the first stage of its bloom, a Victoria flower is female and uses its bright color, heat and strong fragrance to attract pollinating scarab beetles.
Pollen-covered beetles get inside the flower and stay the night, feasting on nectar.
"They have like a party in the flower all night and they actually mate," Martinez said. "And then when the flower opens the next morning they get to go do the same thing in the [next] flower the next night.
"So yeah, it's a pretty good deal for the beetles."
When the flower reopens and releases the beetles, it has pink or red petals and has changed gender to male, coated in pollen.
Because scarab beetles are native only to South America, Victorias raised in the U.S. must be artificially pollinated.
Hudson Gardens gets their Victoria seeds directly from Pennsylvania's Longwood Gardens.
"Longwood Gardens does not sell their seed," Martinez said. "They have a patent on the seed, so they really only like to share their seed with public gardens or nonprofit gardens."
The only other place to find Victoria lilies in the Denver area is at Denver Botanic Gardens on York Street.
Each Victoria plant generates 10 to 12 flowers per season. Most appear in late July and early August.
Hudson Gardens has three Victoria plants in its Victoria Water Lily Pond.