The following article is provided by Mike Stephenson, Beaverton, Oregon, USA and we thank him profusely for this extraordinary account of Victoria's earliest recorded history. Please note that some apparent discrepancies in descriptions arise from the fact that, in 1850, Victoria regia (now Victoria amazonica) and Victoria cruziana were not recognized as separate species. Most of the text refers to V. amazonica.

The beginning is highly technical but the next sections are fascinating, with quotations from early reporters and even cultivation details. Click images to enlarge.

Generic Character | Description | History | Schomburgk on discovery

Bridges on habitat and fragrance | First cultivation | First flowering in cultivation
Annual or perennial | Original cultivation techniques

From The Gardeners' Chronicle 1850
Authors unknown



GENERIC Character. - Victoria, Lindley. Tube of the calyx sub-globose, adherent to the ovary, expanded into a torus at the throat; limb 4-parted, deciduous, coloured. Petals numerous, inserted on the throat and torus of the calyx; outer ones at length completely reflexed, longer than the calyx, the interior by degrees narrower, acuminate, rigid, approaching the form of the stamens. Stamens numerous, inserted with the petals on the torus in about three rows, fertile; the filaments subulate, petaloid, but rigid and firm, at length erect; anthers introrse, the cells situated below the apex, linear-elongate adnate. Within the stamens the torus is prolonged upwards and inwards for about an inch, arching over inwards; on its margin is borne a circle of conical, fleshy, somewhat recurved, horn-like processes. Ovary globose below, concave-campanulate at the top, marked with rays setting out from a central beak, many-celled, the cells at first arranged regularly in one circle, afterwards becoming irregular by mutual pressure, with many ovules; ovules anatropous, parietal, affixed to a spongy, reticulated placenta by short funiculi; styles wanting (connate into a furrowed bell clothing the tube of the calyx, Lindley); stigmas forming radiating lines on the top of the ovary (11. Brown). There exist also about thirty large, fleshy, incurved, somewhat scroll-shaped bodies, forming projecting ridges at the outer ends of the rays of the top of the ovary, their outer faces being blended with the concavity of the vaulted portion of the torus. These have been described as stigmas. Fruit baccate, globular-campanulate or cup- shaped, truncate, campanulate above, beaked in the centre, many-celled, cells many-seeded. Seeds oval-globular, with a horny testa, and copious albumen.

A vast aquatic herb, inhabiting still rivers in the north of South America, east of the Andes; rhizome perennial? Leaves gigantic, floating, orbiculate, peltate, flat, the margin elevated all round, radiately and reticularly ribbed, the ribs very prominent below, on very long foot stalks, the vernation of the lamina corrugated-involute; flowers large and handsome, at first whitish, becoming rose, especially within, peduncles elongated; roots adventitious, breaking out below the insertion of the leaves on the rhizome; petioles, peduncles, calyx-tube, and the ribs of the leaves below, with abundant large and acute spines.

VICTORIA REGIA, Lindley. Victoria Water Lily. The only species.

SYNONYMY -Victoria regia, Lindley; Monograph on Victoria (with plates), privately printed in 1837; Botanical Register Misc., 1838, p. 9; D'Orbigny, Ann. des Sc. naturelles, 2nd ser. Botanique, vol. xiii., p. 57 ; Walpers, Repertorium,vol, i. p. 106; Schomburgk, Views in the Interior of Guiana, p. 2, frontispiece; Botanical Magazine, 3rd ser., vol. iii., 1847, p. 1, tab. 4275-4278.
Victoria regina, Gray, Stay. of Tool. and Botany, vol. ii., 1838, p. 440.
Nymphaea Victoria, Schomburgk, MS.
Euryale Amazonica, Poppig, Froriep's Notizen, vol. xxxv., p. 9; Reise, vol. ii., p. 432.
Victoria Cruziana, D'Orbigny, 1. c., p. 57, (leaves of the same colour on both sides, petals all rose coloured.

DESCRIPTION - A large aquatic herb, with a perennial rhizome large and tuberous, with internodes scarcely developed, furnished with numerous cylindrical adventitious roots abounding in air cavities ; the rhizome thick, of a brown colour externally, white within, changing to purple when cut (Schomburgk), decaying at the base as it developes leaves, flowers, and roots above, growing in 4-6 feet water. Petioles long, terete, clothed with copious prickles. Leaves floating, very large, 4 to 6 feet in diameter; when first expanded, oval with a deep narrow cleft at one end, almost exactly orbicular when full-grown, peltate, with the margin turned up all round, forming a rim like that of a tea-tray; the upper side of the blade full green, with numerous reticulations forming somewhat quadrangular areolae; the under side deep purple, or, according to D'Orbigny, sometimes green, (brownish red in the specimen from which our drawings were made), clothed with short spongy pubescence, with very prominent flattened ribs set edgeways on the lamina, radiating from the petiole to the circumference, and progressively diminishing in depth; these are united by cross ribs, also vertical plates, and the latter again by less elevated ones crossing them, so that the under surface is completely divided into quadrangular chambers, of which the ribs form the sides, and the general surface of the lamina the top, and as these detain air within them, they act as floats ; all the ribs - are more or less beset with spines, varying in length, sharp and horny, enlarged at the base. Vernation of the lamina corrugated-involute, that is, the greater part wrinkled up like the petals of the poppy, with the margin rolled in on all sides. Peduncles all axillary, from the rhizome, longer than the petiole(?), and rising above the surface of the water when the flower expands, terete, prickly, very copiously furnished with air-cavities, one-flowered. Flower 10 to 15 inches in diameter, somewhat pear-shaped in bud, fragrant. Calyx deeply 4-parted; the tube turbinate, green, very prickly, adherent to the ovary; the lobes of the limb large, oval, reddish purple, concave, deciduous, a little prickly on the outside towards the base, rather shorter than the petals. Within, at the throat, the calyx enlarges into an annular torus bearing the petals and stamens. Petals very numerous, the outer ones larger than the calyx, oblong, concave, obtuse, the inner ones gradually becoming narrower, much acuminated, and insensibly passing into petaloid filaments. When the flowers expand, which they do for the first time about five P.M., they rise five or six inches above the surface of the water, and become about half unclosed; at this time all the outer petals are white; this condition persists until about ten A.M. the next day, when the flower closes; about two P.M. of the same day it re-opens, assumes an upright position in the water, and the outer envelopes, which by degrees acquire a continually deepening pinkish colour, become completely reflexed, so that their summits touch the water all around ; more and more of the erect petals are reflexed until only the strongly incurved filamentous petals of a rose colour remain closed up ; but these very soon assume an erect position, spreading oil all sides at the summit, so as to form a rose-coloured crown surrounding the essential organs, the yellow colour of the stamens then becoming visible in the interior. About 11 p.m. the same night it closes permanently, and sinks below the water to ripen its seeds. The stamens are in about three circles, large, subulate, incurved below; anther-cells double, linear, introrse, occupying the inner face of the filament below the apex. Within the fertile stamens the torus is prolonged inwards for about half an inch, forming an arch over the stigmas, and bearing on its margin a circle of somewhat recurved, fleshy, born-like bodies. Pollen apparently with a single coat. Ovary adherent to the whole length of the prickly tube of the calyx, and thus turbinate like it, with a deep radiated depression or cavity at the top, and in the centre a small conical beak or column; it may therefore be called cup-shaped, with a thick fleshy base, having air-cells extending down into the peduncle; in this fleshy substance are contained twenty-six to thirty compressed cells, arranged at first in a very regular circle near the rim of the cup; as the ovules enlarge, the cells gradually come to occupy tine whole thickness of the germen, and by their mutual pressure are rendered irregular in arrangement and form ; their parietes consist of a reticulated spongy structure, partially gelatinous, and the ovules are attached to the reticulations by short funiculi, the funiculus being turned toward the axis of the ovary. The stigmatic surfaces are upon the rays on the top of the ovary. At the ends of these rays occur about thirty somewhat scroll-shaped or uniform, spongy, incurved, projecting bodies, which were formerly taken for stigmas, but are mere processes from the inside of the vault of the torus connected at their bases with the ends of the stigmas; the circle formed by the points of their junction is about three-quarters of an inch below the insertion of the petals and stamens, and within the cup formed by the torus and calyx tube. The seeds are rather large, imbedded in the spongy placentas, with a horny testa, yellowish when young, and brownish or black afterwards, with copious albumen. A.H.

HISTORY -The Victoria inhabits the still waters of all the great rivers of the South American continent, which flow into the Atlantic Ocean: such as the tributaries of the Amazon, the La Plata, the Essequibo. The rapid movement of the streams flowing into the Pacific has been suggested, by Sir W. J. Hooker, as the probable reason why (as appears to be the case) it is absent from them.

The first discovery of this Royal Water Lily attaches to Haenke, who found it, in Bolivia, about the year 1801. Bonpland, the companion of Humboldt, in his South American travels, met with it in the same country, some time afterwards. D'Orbigny found it in Paraguay, in 1827; and also met with it (1832) in Bolivia, where it has again more recently been found by Bridges. In the same year (1832), Poppig found it in the country of the Amazons. Sir R. Schomburgk (by whom it was first especially brought into notice in England, through a drawing and communication presented to the London Botanical Society) found it, in 1837, in British Guiana, and more recently (1842) in one of the tributaries of the Essequibo. His account of the incidents of its discovery, though often quoted, is so graphic, that we must here introduce a passage or two of it.

"It was on the 1st of January, 1837, while contending with the difficulties that Nature interposed, in different forms, to stem our progress up the river Berbice [British Guiana], that we arrived at a part where the river expanded, and formed a currentless basin. Some object on the southern extremity of this basin attracted my attention, and I was unable to form an idea what it could be; but, animating the crew to increase the rate of their paddling, we soon came opposite the object which had raised my curiosity, and-behold, a vegetable wonder! All calamities were forgotten: I was a botanist, and felt myself rewarded! There were gigantic leaves, five to six feet across, flat, with a broad rim, light green above, and vivid crimson below, floating upon the water. Quite in character with the wonderful foliage, were the luxuriant flowers, each consisting of many hundred petals, passing in alternate tints, from pure white to rose and pink. The smooth water was covered with the blossoms; and as I rowed from one to the other, I always found something new to admire. . . . The young leaf is convolute, and expands but slowly. The prickly stem ascends with the young leaf till it has reached the surface; by the time it has developed, its own weight depresses the stem, and it floats on the water. . . . When the flower first opens it is white, with pink in the middle, which spreads over the whole flower the more it advances in age, and it is generally found the next day altogether of a pink colour. As if to add to the charm of this noble Water Lily, it is sweet-scented. Like others of its tribe, the petals and stamens pass gradually into each other, and many petaloid leaves may be observed which have vestiges of an anther. The petals next the calyx-leaves are fleshy, and possess air-cells, which must contribute to the buoyancy of the flowers. We met with the plants frequently as we ascended the river and the higher we advanced the more gigantic they became: we measured a leaf which was five feet six inches in diameter; its rim five and a-half inches high; and the flower fifteen inches across. A beetle infests the flowers, to their great injury, often completely destroying the inner part of the disc; we counted sometimes from twenty to thirty of these insects in one flower."

According to D'Orbigny, the fruit, which, when ripe, is half the size of a man's head, is full of roundish farinaceous seeds, which are collected, washed, and eaten, forming a valuable article of food. From this circumstance the plant is called Mais del Aqua, or Water Maize. The same traveller states, that the people of Guiana call it Irupe, or I rupe - literally, Water-platter, from the broad dish-like leaves. Poppig says it is called Murura ; while, according to Bridges, the Moimas, or natives of Santa Anna, call it Morinqua ; and a neighbouring nation, the Cayababas, call it Dachocho.

"The Victoria," writes Mr. Bridges, in a letter published in the Botanical Magazine, "grows in four to six feet of water, producing leaves and flowers, which rapidly decay, and give place to others. From each plant there are seldom more than four or five leaves on the surface, but even these, in parts of the lake where the plants were numerous, almost covered the surface of the water. . . . From what I observed, I conclude that it cannot and does not exist in any of the rivers where the immense rise and fall of twenty feet would leave it dry during many months of the year, especially in the season when there is no rain. The lagoons, being subject to little variation in the height of their waters, are the places where it grows in all its beauty and grandeur. The Victoria appears to delight in parts of the lake fully exposed to the sun, and I observed that it did not exist where the trees overshadowed the margins."

Both in the wild and cultivated state, the flowers exhale a very peculiar fragrance. On this point Mr. Bridges, in the letter already referred to, writes: " I had an opportunity of experiencing the fragrance of the flowers. Those I collected for preserving in spirits were unexpanded, but on the point of opening. On arriving at the Government House in the town [Santa Anna], I deposited them in my room, and returning after dark, I found to my surprise that all had blown, and were exhaling a most delightful odour, which at first I compared to a rich Pine apple, afterwards to a Melon, and then to the Cherimoya; but, indeed, it resembled none of these fruits, and I at length came to the decision that it was a most delicious scent, unlike every other, and peculiar to the noble flower that produced it."

Though discovered long ago, it was not until August, 1846, that fresh seeds of the Victoria reached England. From this importation it does not appear that more than two plants were raised, and these at the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew. Their history may be thus told: By the month of October they were in a thriving condition, but soon after that time they began to show symptoms of decay, and by the 12th of December they were both dead. These seeds had been collected in Bolivia by Mr. Thomas Bridges, and were brought to England in a bottle containing a small quantity of moist earth.

The next importation consisted of roots. These were sent to Kew in a glazed case, and arrived on the 10th of October, 1848. They had been obtained from the Upper Essequibo, by Indians employed for the purpose by E. G. Boughton, Esq., M.D., of Leguan Island. On examination they all proved to be dead and decayed. Dr. Boughton sent by the mail of the following month some dry capsules containing seeds, and shortly afterwards other seeds in a bottle of muddy water; but in neither of these cases did the seeds vegetate.

The next attempt was more successful. Hugh Rodie, Esq., M.D., and - Luckie, Esq., of George Town, Demerara, obtained seeds which they forwarded to Kew by the mails, in small phials filled with pure water; these, on their arrival, were found to be quite perfect. The first arrived on the 28th of February, 1849, and others came by the three next following mails. By the 23rd of March, half a dozen seeds had germinated, and were in a thriving condition; and others continued to germinate, so that by the end of summer upwards of fifty plants had been raised, about half of which were distributed among the principal cultivators of rare plants. Up to the present time, however, we hear of two only of these having been made to produce blossoms, namely, that at Chatsworth, and that at Syon, whilst many of the remainder have perished.

The first flowers were produced in the garden of the Duke of Devonshire, at Chatsworth, under the care of his Grace's gardener, Mr. Paxton, and his assistant, Mr. George Eyles. One of the earliest of these blossoms, Mr. Paxton had the honour of presenting to her Majesty the Queen, to whom the genus is dedicated. The details of the progress of the Duke of Devonshire's plant have been published in The Gardeners' Chronicle, from which source most of the following statistical facts are drawn: The plant was one of those raised at Kew, in the early part of March, 1849. It was received at Chatsworth on the 3rd of August, having then four leaves, the largest measuring five and a-half inches in diameter. On the 10th of August, it was planted out in a tank prepared for it. The first flower-bud was observed on the 1st of November, it was partially expanded on the 8th, and fully and finally on the 9th. By this time thirty-one additional leaves had been produced, the largest of which measured four feet ten and three-quarter inches in diameter. Some of the more vigorous leaves are, at particular stages of their growth, recorded to have increased in diameter at the remarkable rate of sixteen or eighteen inches within twenty-four hours.

The largest flower produced on the Chatsworth plant, in the autumn, was ten and a-half inches in diameter. From this plant ripe and perfect seeds were obtained early in December. Some self-sown seedlings were observed about the middle of the February following, and a considerable number of young seedling plants were raised shortly after; the old plant, in the meantime, though resting in winter, continuing in perfect health, and progressing rapidly in growth, with the advancing spring, thus apparently setting at rest the question which had been raised, as to whether the species was annual or perennial. The rapidity with which its growth had been matured, and its seeds perfected, gave rise to the opinion that it was but of annual duration, which notion obtained apparent confirmation in the fact of the decay of almost all the other unbloomed plants that had been raised, on the approach of winter. On the other hand, an account of its being successfully transplanted at George Town, in Demerara, and the description given of the rootstock, or trunk, by collectors, led to the hope of its being perennial; whilst Mr. Bridges, who sent the earliest seeds which reached England, spoke of it as decidedly perennial. The continued growth of the Chatsworth plant, after flowering and seeding, may be taken as nearly conclusive evidence of the latter. This plant continued to bloom through the winter, but the flowers produced on the return of spring have proved to be larger than those which were developed in the preceding autumn. The largest flower produced at Chatsworth, of which we have any record, was thirteen inches in diameter.
Flower of Victoria Regia, as seen
on the first day of expansion and first day stage of second day's expansion

 The urbanity and liberality of his Grace the Duke of Northumberland, in whose princely gardens, at Syon House, the second flowering example of the Victoria has been reared, have enabled us to lay before our readers the present series of drawings of this truly Royal plant. The sketches represent the remarkably diversified stages through which the flowers pass, during the two days on which each is expanded. The two wood engravings show the appearance of the flowers as seen on the first day of expansion, and at one of the earlier stages of expansion on the second day.

The coloured figures (These are not available for this reprint so we have provided some from our galleries) show the two last, and most distinct and beautiful, stages, before the final closing of the blossoms. We understand that these changes have been observed, at Syon, to take place with remarkable regularity as regards the hour of the day at which the several stages of development were reached. The flower first opens about five P.M., and is pure white (see p. 228); it continues expanded all night, closes about ten A.M. on the following day, and so remains till two P.M., when it begins again to expand; about four o'clock, it has the appearance shown in the wood engraving given above; between five and six, the stage shown by the coloured figure with the depressed crown is reached ; and towards seven, that represented by the other coloured figure; in this state it continues until about ten P.M., when it finally closes. Although these several conditions are attained at about the hours specified, it must be understood that the expansion goes on gradually, until the full development has been reached. The blossoms we examined were about a foot in diameter, and six inches in height.


One curious fact connected with the Victoria Water Lily is the extreme buoyancy of its large succulent foliage, occasioned by the presence of large air-cells in the thick ribs which cover like network the under surface, much aided no doubt by its large surface, and the deep pit-like recesses formed between the interlacing veins. A child seven or eight years of age is said to have been supported by a leaf of the Chatsworth plant. The weight was, however, in this instance, distributed by means of a piece of board laid on the leaf, and on which the child stood.

CULTURE - Mr. Ivison, the gardener at Syon, under whose clever management the plant has progressed in a way so entirely satisfactory, has favoured us with the following particulars as to the treatment he adopted, and its results. We need hardly mention that the atmosphere maintained was that of a tropical plant stove. The plant at Syon was received from Kew in the second week of September, 1849, being one of the number which was distributed about that time. It had then four leaves, the largest being about four inches in diameter.

The Chatsworth "stove" (greenhouse)

It was placed at once under similar treatment to that which was so successfully pursued with the Nelumbiums in these gardens some years back, the basis of which was a constant circulation of the water in which they were grown. This was effected by placing three tubs at different elevations. The upper one rested immediately over a hot water pipe. This warmed the water, which was then conveyed by a syphon into the one below, in which the Victoria in a pot was placed, and which was plunged in bark bed. From this the water was conveyed by a pipe into the third and lowest tub, from which it was returned into the upper one, again to follow the same course of circulation. Under this treatment, the plant soon became too large for its original pot, and in about two weeks it was shifted into one of a much larger size; and, continuing rapidly to increase its dimensions, it was removed into a wicker basket about two and a-half feet in diameter by two feet deep. About the same time the size of the tub was enlarged by fixing sheet lead to the upper part of it, and dressing it out into a superficies of six feet square, and about three inches deep at the sides, thus allowing room for the increased length of the leaf-stalks. In this situation it remained, producing a succession of healthy leaves, until January 5, 1850. It was then removed into a low-roofed lean-to house, in which Mr. Beck had been ordered to prepare a slate tank for its reception, twenty-two feet long by twelve feet wide, and arranged in the following manner: the central portion was made two feet six inches deep for the reception of the soil; the remaining part, over which the leaves were to expand, was only one foot deep, which has been found amply sufficient. At one end, and elevated above it, is placed a cistern through which pass two two-inch hot water pipes, connected with a single one of the same size descending from it and continued all round the shallow part of the large tank below, whilst the centre and deeper part is heated by a four-inch pipe passing entirely round it. These pipes are all connected with a boiler, which heated the building before it was applied to its present purpose.

"That this may be clearly understood I will enter a little more into detail: A large reservoir receives all the rain water which falls on the glass erections in this part of the gardens. From thence it is pumped up into a cistern which supplies the smallest one placed above the tank in which the plant is growing; thence, passing through a cock, it falls upon a small wheel which, revolving gently, agitates the water, and this, flowing towards a waste pipe, again finds its way into the reservoir, from which it originally came - thus keeping up a continued and healthy circulation. The water is kept at an equable temperature of about 85 degrees Fah. by the hot water pipes arranged as before described.

"The soil in which the Victoria was planted consisted of three cart loads of good old turfy loam, which had lain in heap for two or three years. Previously to placing it in the tank, six inches of broken brick-bats were laid on the bottom, and covered with turves of peat. On these the soil was laid in a conical form, rising to within six inches of the surface of the water, and in the centre of this the Victoria was planted. For three weeks after its removal into its new home there was scarcely a sunny day; indeed it was generally very foggy -weather; and during this time it only existed, making no apparent progress. The weather then changed, and it immediately showed evident symptoms of growth. On February 1 I discovered on the surface of the soil several white roots, unmistakeable evidences of health under water; on the third it produced its first healthy leaf since its removal; by the tenth this was ten inches in diameter; at the end of the month seven leaves were formed, the largest of which was sixteen inches in diameter; during March it added nine other leaves, the diameter of the largest being nearly four feet. On April 1, I discovered the first flower bud, and on the 10th the flower began to open. It first opened about five o'clock P.M., continued open all night, and closed about ten A.M. on the following day. On that day (April 11) it began to open about two o'clock, P.M., having gone through its various stages, reached its full expansion about six, when it was at its greatest beauty; it continued thus for about four hours, when it began finally to close preparatory to seeding. On the third morning the remains of the flower were partly under water, and gradually sank lower, but the flower stalk continued to lengthen for some time afterwards.

"I may here observe that, on the morning of the day on which the flower first expanded, the bud was seen to move itself as far as possible in one direction, then back again in a semi-circle, and finally raised itself out of the water to rest and expand upon the young leaf, with which it was produced. Just before opening, and during the whole of the first night, the flower is very fragrant, the perfume being that of the Pine apple; this odour is distinctly perceptible outside the house.

"At the present time (May 6) the tenth flower is expanded; it is twelve inches in diameter. I find that each succeeding flower increases in size. There are now four more flower-buds visible; in fact, with every young leaf, comes its attendant flower-bud. Since the 10th of April the Victoria has been in flower for two successive days, missing the following one, with very little variation. The largest leaf is now five feet in diameter, with an inch and a-half of its edge turned neatly up, and forming a beautiful rim; the under surface being of a purplish red colour, and contrasting well with the deep green of the upper portion. The formation of the under side of the leaves is very beautiful; the large veins near the centre are about two inches deep, gradually shallower towards the edge, and connected with each other by means of smaller ones, altogether forming a strong network, the whole being armed with powerful spines."

Without entering into the various speculations offered as to the cause of the many failures in the attempts made to cultivate this plant - for which, indeed, we have not space - we may venture briefly to express our own conviction that success has not been the result of any one condition applied with more than ordinary skill; and, therefore, is not to be traced, specially, either to uninterrupted bright light, or the purity of the water as influenced by charred soil; but, rather, has been the reward of a skilful combination of the conditions which represent artificially the tropical climate and peculiar circumstances which the plant naturally enjoys. These conditions are, in brief: light, clear and free; water, pure and constantly changing; heat, steady and powerful, though not excessive, in respect both to the water and the atmosphere - all these combined and acting in concert. M.

by John Fisk Allen, with illustrations by William Sharp 1854
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 Victoria Regia
The Gardeners' Chronicle 1850

The Victoria Regia - Historical Reminiscences
Wisconsin State Horticultural Society 1885 

 Plant Notes. The Victoria Regia
Garden and Forest 1888

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