The Flower of Empire: The Amazon's Largest Water Lily, the Quest to Make it Bloom, and the World it Helped Create

ISBN : 9780195373899

Tatiana Holway
328 Pages
163 x 237 mm
Pub date
May 2013
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In 1837, a German naturalist named Robert Schomburgk was charting the South American terrirtory of Guiana on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society. Guiana, only recently joined to the British Empire, was almost uncharted, and knowledge of it stemmed primarily from Sir Walter Raleigh's account of his search for the legendary city El Dorado. Moving upriver, Schomburgk found not gold, but to his astonishment, a "vegetal wonder" - a water lily so colossal that it physically impeded the expedition's progress. The flowers were dazzlingly white; its leaves were five or six feet across. He took careful notes and packed up one of the plants as best he could, then sent them back to England, where news of the discovery spread and fed a horticultural mania. A race was on to bring a live specimen to England, and to bring it to flower. In honor of its being discovered during the year of the new queen's accession to the throne, the lily was named the Victoria regia. In The Flower of Empire, Tatiana Holway tells the story of this magnificent flower, from its discovery to the manner in which its influence touched upon nearly every aspect of Victorian life, art, and culture. Holway recounts how the lily's appearance was reproduced everywhere, giving rise to new experiments in hothouse architecture and eventually serving as a basis for the design of the Crystal Palace, the most impressive demonstration and symbol of the empire's unrivaled industrial might and natural bounty. The Flower of Empire is a revealing and enduring work of cultural history.


Prologue: Victoria's Floras
1. Terra Incognita
2. Perils and Wonders
3. A Floral Sensation
4. An International Tempest
5. Return to the Wild
6. Cultivating Kew Gardens
7. His Grace and His Gardener
8. The Flowering of Chatsworth
9. Golden Square
10. Evergreens
11. Salvaging Kew Gardens
12. Trading Favors
13. Trials and Errors
14. The Great Stove
15. Reviving Kew Gardens
16. Return to El Dorado
17. Paxton, Inc.
18. First Bloom
19. Nature's Engineer
20. Empire under Glass
Epilogue: Victoria Regia Redux

About the author: 

Tatiana Holway is a Victorian scholar and writer. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and has taught literature at a number of different colleges. She lives in Massachusetts.

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