Football, Misspelling & Meghan: 8 facts about the Victoria Regia Lily that we're sure you didn't know

Happy New Year! While January 1 was a day for recovery, renewal, planning and rest, some of the Historians, botanists and patriots among us might also know it as the 182nd Anniversary of the discovery of the Victoria Regia Lily by Robert Schomburgk. The Lily is Guyana's National Flower. It has caught the world's attention multiple times, the most recent being last year. Why is the Victoria Regia Lily so popular? Why is it our national flower? Read on to find out.

1. Royal Wedding

At the Prince Harry / Meghan Markle Royal wedding last year, the Bride's veil was embroidered with a distinctive flower from each of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. The Victoria Regia Lily was the flower that was used to represent Guyana.

2. Spelling Error?

After Schomburgk's discovery of the flower in Guyana, he wanted to name it after Queen Victoria. He actually named it the Victoria RegiNa, after first calling it the 'Nymphaea Victoria'. Somewhere along the line, either by typographical error or a misguided friendly attempt to fix what may have been perceived as an error, it began to be recorded as the Regia. Newspapers also initially reported it as the Regina as well.

While many agree that Schomburgk's intent was to name it the Regina, is has persisted and secured its name as Regia today.

3. A good sign for the new year

On New Year's Day, 1837, Schomburgk's relatively unsuccessful and tragic expedition was close to its end. He had not only lost a colleague on the trip (for more details, visit the Benab's story of Christmas Falls), he had been deserted at one point by some Amerindian guides, and was forced to abandon a canoe which later disappeared. His setbacks had caused the notable delay of his planned itinerary. He reports that these failures were on his mind when something caught his eye: the Lily! He said that "...All calamities were forgotten; I was a botanist, and felt myself rewarded!"

4. AKA

The Lily was also called the Irupé by the Amerindians. This was due to the shape of its leaves, which bore a strong resemblance to dishes used in the country at the time and the covers of their baskets. They have also been described by the British as (not surprisingly) resembling tea-trays. It has also been said by Schomburgk that the Lily was named after Queen Victoria because it was without a doubt, the "Queen of the Lilies". In the other districts where the Lily is found, is it also known as the Murura, Irupe, Yrupe, Morinqua and Dachocho.

5. Seal-ed with a flower

George Lawson, who wrote extensively about the Regia, said that the flower was so popular in the UK that it was used as the seal of the Royal Botanical Society of London at the time. The Society of Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) later replaced the Royal Botanical Society, and we have been unable to find the seal at that time. However, special thanks to Louise Marsh at the BSBI and also to Craig Brough from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for finding this fantastic sketch below of the the Lily from 1839 from their archives. Note that it is spelled as RegiNa in this image as well.







6. Crystal Palace + the Lily

If you're a Football fan, you'll recognize the name. Crystal Palace was originally a building constructed to house the 1851 World's Fair and was situated in Hyde Park, London. After the Fair was over, it was relocated to an area that was later renamed in honour of the structure. As the name suggests, the building was made of glass and steel, making it look like a palace of crystal. 

So why is this in a Lily post? Not only was the Lily exhibited there, but the ribs of the lily pads served as the ACTUAL DESIGN INSPIRATION for the entire structure!

7. The Late bloomer & the Double Architect

There were a number of unsuccessful attempts to have the Lily bloom in England - the seeds, roots and flowers either died while being shipped as conditions proved to be inappropriate. Joseph Paxton was a gardener & architect, who made it his mission to be the first one to successfully make the Regia bloom. He finally achieved this dream in 1849. Also, small world - do you remember #6 on this list? Paxton was also the Architect for the Crystal Palace! He is also famously credited with displaying the structural integrity of the Lily by having his daughter stand on it!

8. Define 'First':

It appears that the Lily was first discovered in Bolivia by the famous botanist Haenke around 1801, but it wasn't officially recorded and he later died, leaving the extent of his discovery to the imagination. Another explorer named D'Orbigny later discovered it along with Haenke's story, and found many instances of the Lily throughout South America. His work was also interestingly enough, not published and Schomburgk is credited with having discovering / naming the Lily. 


So were we right? Did you know any of these facts before? At the Benab, we're always open for discussion so drop us a line!








Books / Reports / People:

  • The Royal Water-Lily of South America - George Lawson
  • The Victoria Regina: Read before the Philosophical Society, 1868: Papers read before the Philosophical Society and the Chamber of Manufactures, 1811 - 1891 by R. Schomburgk.
  • The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, The Quest to Make it Bloom, and the World it Created
  • Craig Brough, Information Services Librarian from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Louise Marsh, The Society of Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI)