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Couple arrested for Aspen murder conserved prized Amazonian waterlilies

Stewards of prized Victoria waterlilies were arrested for murder in Aspen.
Illustration from Studio Botanika

Denver’s water-gardening community is shocked and mystified over the arrest of William Francis “Trey” Styler III and his wife Nancy Christine Styler, charged with the first-degree murder of Aspenite Nancy Pfister. The Aspen Times reported today that Pfister, an Aspen native, was found dead in her home that the Stylers allegedly had rented. Pfister was the daughter of prominent Aspenites: the late Betty and Art Pfister, an Aspen Skiing Co. executive who played a major role in developing Buttermilk Mountain,

Arrested couple founded Victoria Conservancy

The Stylers were arrested yesterday afternoon. Former residents of the affluent Denver suburb Greenwood Village, the Stylers—particularly Nancy—cultivated prized Amazonian waterlilies including Victoria cruziana, commonly known as giant waterlilies, water platters or Queen of the Waterlilies.

Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, Panayoti Kelaidis said, “I knew Nancy Styler better than I knew Trey—always in connection with their waterlilies.”

Nancy Styler provided waterlilies to Denver Botanic Gardens, Hudson Gardens, the University of Denver and water gardens worldwide. She and her husband, a physician, founded and directed the Victoria Conservancy, a nonprofit branch of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society.

“Nancy was truly the ‘Queen’ of Victorias for years, managing the Victoria waterlily project,” Kelaidis said. “I am truly mystified about this whole business, and can’t imagine the people I knew with the amazing garden in Greenwood Village could possibly commit murder.”

The Stylers traveled to the Amazon to learn more about the plants that require painstaking cultivation. The couple initially grew interested in the plants when their then 7-year-old son took an interest in Victoria waterlilies. Beginning in 1992, the Stylers cultivated the lilies in pools in their lush, large back yard garden. Nancy safeguarded Victoria waterlily seeds in a small refrigerator in the family's Greenwood Village home. Nancy Styler educated school children about Victoria waterlilies and is recognized as a leading authority on the plants.

Victoria waterlilies prized for leaves and flowers

Victoria water lilies are treasured for both their enormous, lipped pads and their curious, color-changing and sex-changing blossoms. The leaves can grow a foot per day, reaching a diameter of up to 8 feet. The ribbed framework of the strong lily pads is credited with inspiring Joseph Paxton's design for England’s Crystal Palace in 1851.
In Victorian times, the lilies named for Queen Victoria often were pictured whimsically with babies or children atop the floating pads to demonstrate the leaves’ strength and buoyancy. The underside of the lily pads are covered with large, sharp hooks that keep nibbling fish and manatees at bay.
The Victoria cruxiana bloom rises above murky waters and appears as a white flower that closes and reopens as red, changing not only color, but also changing sex. The blossom produces an exotic perfume reminiscent of tropical tuberose. The fragrance lures pollinating beetles to the blossom.

Victoria waterlilies highly prized since their discovery

Highly prized since their discover, the plants are legendary, and Styler was not the first woman devoted to the extraordinary Victoria waterlilies. The illustration included above is a work by Margaret Ursula Mee (1909-1988). An adventurous explorer, intrepid conservationist and widely recognized as one of the finest botanical artists, Mee moved from her native England to Brazil in 1952.

For three decades, “she traveled great distances through dangerous and uncharted regions in a small canoe with a lone Tucano Indian as her guide,” according to Studio Botanika, which offers the print for sale. The website notes that Mee "overcame many hardships — including life-threatening bouts with malaria and tropical fevers as well as nearly drowning on several occasions — to document the plants and animals deep within the Amazon."

The Aspen Times noted that the Stylers were being held in Aspen without bond.

••• "Cultivate your corner of the world.

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Colleen Smith writes from and gardens in Denver, Colorado. She's been a longtime regular contributor to The Denver Post, Colorado Expression, Sunset Magazine, and other publications.

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