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John Lindley (1799-1865)

Victoria Regia. 1837

RCIN 1122366

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  • The giant waterlily (Victoria amazonica) is the largest of the waterlilies and the national flower of Guyana. On its classification by John Lindley in 1837, the plant was originally named Victoria regia in honour of Queen Victoria, who had recently ascended to the throne. The name was amended to its present form following the Queen's death in 1901.
    Lindley published only 25 copies of his description of the plant, reserving its discovery to a select audience: the Queen, botanically-minded members of the aristocracy and scientific institutions. T
    he first attempts to grow the plant by the German-born explorer Robert Schomburgck in Guyana failed, and in 1846 seeds were sent to Sir William Jackson Hooker at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew where attempts to grow them were also unsuccessful (see RCIN 1074401). Further seeds and rhizomes (rootstalks) were sent to Kew in 1848, followed by a group of live plants in 1849, but none of these were able to survive.

    The prestige in being the first to successfully grow and cause the waterlily to bloom in Britain soon developed into a competition, primarily between the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Northumberland and their gardeners, and much money was invested in developing new technologies that could better replicate the climate of the Amazon rainforest.

    In February 1849, further seeds were sent to Kew and some of these were passed on to Joseph Paxton to propagate in his new greenhouse at Chatsworth, the residence of the Duke of Devonshire.

    In November 1849, Paxton managed to get the plant to bloom successfully, and cuttings were sent to Queen Victoria. The first lilies flowered at Kew and at the Duke of Northumberland's London home, Syon House, soon after (see RCIN 1122365). By utilising Paxon’s technology, lilies were soon able to be grown in hothouses around the country. So inspired by the structure of the lily pad, Paxton used it as the basis for future designs of his glasshouses, including the Crystal Palace.