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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Natural wonder or national symbol? A history of the Victoria Regia

Few could have imagined the elusive floral wonder retrieved in January 1837 from the heart of Guyana’s wildest jungles — and fewer still could have predicted the extent to which it would transform an entire continent’s cultural and aesthetic sensibilities. With leaves nearly five feet across, and a flower as large as eighteen inches in diameter, the Victoria Regia water lily, named after Queen Victoria (and now known as the Victoria amazonica), was initially discovered by explorer Robert Shomburgk in Great Britain’s first South American colony, evolving from lesser-known natural wonder to widely-recognized national symbol. Here, Tatiana Holway, author of The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, the Quest to Make it Bloom, and the World it Created, unravels the lily’s uniquely mysterious beginnings, its literal and figurative voyage across the Atlantic, and its enduring impact on the cultural landscape of the nineteenth century.

On Robert Shomburgk’s challenging journey into the thick of Guyana, and his world-changing discovery of the Victoria Regia water lily.

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