In the pantheon of Victorian flora, one plant is by any measure a standout. With flat, round, leaves rimmed in crimson, growing six, seven, even eight or more feet in diameter, and basket-sized blooms in shades ranging from white to pink to deep rose, this native of the Amazon is the largest waterlily in the world and among the world’s largest flowering plants. It is also the only plant officially named for Queen Victoria. Found in a British colony in the inaugural year of her long reign, Victoria regia became a media sensation and a national obsession, first in Britain and then in the United States, where its cultivation was celebrated by the publication of a magnificent folio that is now in the Providence Athenæum’s rare books collection. Cultural historian and literary scholar Tatiana Holway will explore this folio and present a visual survey of a spectacular flower’s spectacular history – one that remains current to this day.
Cultural historian and literary scholar Tatiana Holway (PhD Columbia University) is author of The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, the Quest to Make It Bloom, and the World It Created (Oxford University Press, 2013). She has also published in journals ranging from Garden History to the Dickens Quarterly and lectured widely on Victorian literature, science, and popular culture. She lives and gardens on the East Side of Providence.