Victoria Regia
or Victoria Regina?
How A Politics Can Change A Waterlily Name

By Walter Pagels and Piers Trehane - Click images to enlarge

The following is an exchange of letters between Walter Pagels and Piers Trehane in 2001. Walter is well known to the water gardening community as a leading authority on aquatic plants and historian. Piers is Chairman of the Commission on Registration and Nomenclature of the International Society for Horticultural Science.

The discussion began when Walter gave Piers an example of an apparent typographical error in the naming of a plant, in this case Victoria amazonica.

Excerpt from Walter's letter to Piers:

Typos seem to appear spontaneously everywhere, and can lead to long debates. For example, there had been a long history on the original name for the Victoria Waterlily, whether the intended name should have been V. regina or V. regia (caused possibly by a typo when an "n" was omitted).

Piers's comment:

Hmm, I'm not too sure on this one. John Lindley first published the name Victoria regia on page 3 of his 7 page "Victoria regia" which was published 16 October 1837. There were 25 copies. The full title was on the first page of the text itself: "A notice of Victoria regia, a new nymphaeaceous plant discovered by Mr. R. H. Schomburgk in British Guyana". The spelling was consistent throughout and "regia" is a perfectly good adjectival epithet; if "regina" was intended, it would have been a noun in apposition and would have carried an upper-case initial letter. Lindley was known to dislike nouns as adjectives, so I doubt there can really be an argument as to what the author intended in this particular case.

Piers Trehane and Walter Pagels
examine a herbarium specimen at Denver Botanic Garden in 2001.

Above and below, V. amazonica
formerly known as
V. Regia and
V. Regina.

Walter's answer:

Nevertheless, Schomburgk published the name Victoria regina in the Athenaeum Journal for September 9, 1837. In fact, at a meeting of the Botanical Society of London two days earlier, the Society adopted this plant as its emblem. The name was printed as "Victoria Regina.--Schomburgk" (the original publication capitalized the specific epithet as shown).

I mentioned the naming of the Victoria Waterlily in my letter to illustrate how controversial the spelling of a name can be. For example, in the 1851 book "The Royal Water-lily of South America and the Water-lilies of our own Land" by George Lawson, pages 28-29, it states:

"The honour of first making known this magnificent production to the world, in accurate scientific description, having fallen to our own country, it was thought that a better name could not be chosen for the fair and noble plant than that of Victoria Regina -- a name given in honour of our illustrious Queen, 'who at once sways the sceptre of her happily-united kingdom, and pre-eminently so that of the element which this plant inhabits.' Certainly, no other plant has better claims to a royal name, for this is verily the Queen of Flowers. Agreed as British botanists universally are of the propriety of dedicating this plant to our Sovereign, a good deal of discussion has taken place in regard to the correct and first published name. From a careful and apparently correct inquiry into the nomenclature of the Lily, by Mr. Gray (Annals of Natural History, vol. vi., second series, 146), it seems pretty evident that the original and first published name of the plant is Victoria Regina, and that the name of Victoria Regia, which has of late been so very generally adopted, is not only of more recent origin, but apparently the result of typographical error."

Walter continues:

It was never clear to me why Lindley was credited for naming the Victoria waterlily instead of Schomburgk. The most incredible thing is that in terms of establishing priority, in 1850, James De Carle Sowerby (Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist., Ser. 2, 6, 310) revealed that Eduard Poeppig's epithet "amazonica" (established in 1832) should properly be transferred to the genus Victoria (from the genus Euryale), but this was also rejected by Lindley (Paxton's Fl. Garden, 1, for January 1851, 174-175). The name Victoria amazonica (Poeppig) Sowerby was not generally accepted until well into the twentieth century.

Piers's reply

. . . I managed to investigate the original publication of Victoria. I had mentioned this "problem" to William Stearn shortly before he died but he ran out of time to comment fully on this. As far as I can see the authorship should be indeed be attributed to R.H.Schomb., Athenaeum 515:661. Sep 9. 1837 and not to Lindley and, as you said, the type is V. regina R.H.Schomb. (a noun in apposition) and not the adjectival V. regia Lindl.

Looking at Lindley's original work dedicated to the Queen (poor old Lindley never did get his knighthood!), and some of Lindley's defenses of his own work, I think he was economical with the truth in some aspects, but I shall dig further in due course. The historical nomenclature should certainly be put right, even if attempts in the past have failed.


 Walter Pagels - Coming soon

Piers Trehane

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