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"Miracle Man"
William Phillips

Dr. William Earl Phillips, 70, Memphis, Tennessee USA, died September 9, 2009. He is best known in the water gardening world for his extraordinary work with Anecphya, the Australian subgenus of Nymphaea


Andre and William at an Anecphya
pond in Memphis
Some years ago, William fell in love with the N. giganteas in cultivation in the US, the pale blue to white 'Albert de Lestang', a wonderful blue regularly propagated by Rich Sacher and the pink 'Neorosea' collected by Walter Pagels. He proved to be very adept at growing this notoriously tricky group of waterlilies. 

William and Australian collector André Leu developed a productive intercontinental partnership. Andre shared seeds from his collecting trips in Australia with a number of Anecphya aficionados in the US including William. While others struggled, the resulting seedlings thrived in Memphis. The stunning deep pink cultivar named 'Andre Leu' (now known to be a selection of N. carpentariae) was probably the most exciting of many seedlings.

N. 'Andre Leu' >

In 2002, William Phillips sent friends the first pictures of his new hybrid as a greeting. Even though he included some information about the parents, we were all probably more taken by its beauty than by the prospect that it would make history. It proved to be the first documented hybrid between subgenera of Nymphaea ever, a feat previously considered impossible. The pod parent was N. 'Andre Leu' of the Australian subgenus Anecphya and the pollen parent was the white form of N. colorata of the subgenus Brachyceras. At the insistence of friends, he named it N. ‘William Phillips’. 

N. 'William Phillips'

William had a heart condition from birth. In spite of that, and complications resulting from it, he attended the University of Mississippi and Tulane Medical School. Unable to practice private medicine because of his health he earned a Masters degree in public health from UCLA, spending 10 years in the public health field and teaching. His spare time was spent learning about the subtropical plants in various areas.

Prepared for forced early retirement, he participated as a "guinea pig" in endless research studies on devices and medications under development throughout the world. He did manage to travel extensively in Europe, the Mediterranean area, the Middle East, South and Central America and Hawaii. He did it at his pace and would remain longer in an area if he became tired. He concentrated on the conservatories, gardens, and the flora of the area on each trip. 

In 1996, after several months on life support, William received a heart transplant. The transplant team called him their "Walking Miracle" and monitored not just his health but his life at regular intervals. They encouraged him to do whatever in life made him happy. For William that was growing and enjoying his plants. 

Section of William's Anecphya house >


Andre Leu wrote: “I was extremely saddened to learn about the death of William Phillips. I found him to be a most wonderful and generous man and it was a great honour to have known him. He will be immortalised as the first person to do a scientifically verified intersubgeneric Nymphaea hybrid. It is great to see that he started a trend in this direction.

“William always thought that this was his greatest achievement until his doctors stated that being alive was his greatest achievement. He not only managed to outlive the prognosis he was given, but he had a very rewarding and productive life.”  

Profile - William Phillips, The Miracle Man
William Phillips' Miracle Plant

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