Victoria Regia or Victoria Regina?
How A Politics Can Change A Waterlily
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
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).
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
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
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.
. . . 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.
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.