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Vitória-Régia

The water lily is one of the largest aquatic plants in the world.

Vitória-Régia

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 27/05/2022

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Master in Psychology

The victoria amazonica is one of the largest aquatic plants in the world. Originally from the Amazon region, it belongs to the Nymphaeaceae family. Europeans called it “river rose” for its lush ornamental appearance. When an English researcher took its seeds to the gardens of the royal palace, the English named it Victoria after their beloved queen. We should mention that some Indigenous peoples call it Uapé, Iapucacaa, Aguapé-assú, Jaçanã, or Nampé; and the Guarani, Deirupé.

 

Victoria amazonica leaves are large and floating and have folded edges in a circle. Some can cover a three-square meter surface and, if their weight is well distributed, can withstand a load of up to 40 kilos without sinking it into the water. In the Brazilian North, herons, maguari storks, and several other birds walk with ease over their wide green cloaks.

 

Victoria amazonica flowers blossom in January and February. They are white or rose, have several petal layers and open only at night, exuding a wonderful scent. Some flowers reach 30 centimeters in diameter and a circular middle bud holds their seeds.

 

The floods and high tides of the Amazon River greatly benefit victoria amazonica. As the waters rise, so does their petioles [stalks]. Sometimes they grow very long, up to five meters in length. If water levels remains high, victoria amazonica will live for about two years but if the waters drop, she will gradually succumb.

 

The Brazilian North has several myths and legends about victoria amazonica, narrated by wise shamans and old Indigenous women. Gathered at night, they orally share their millennial culture. Some say, for example, that it all started with Naiá. An Indigenous woman who refused to date other men since she was in love with the Moon - a young and handsome warrior, considered a male god. She spent her nights running through the woods, chasing her heavenly groom. There was no miracle potion capable of healing her from such obsession.

 

Once, standing on the edge of a pond, Naiá saw the image of her beloved reflected in the waters. Without hesitating, she dived to meet him and drowned. Moved by this, the Moon sought to compensate Naiá’s sacrifice and turned her into a water star, a true poem of beauty and perfume. Then, he dilated its leaves so they could better receive the caresses of his light. To welcome the moonlight - indeed, their passionate kisses - the Moon made so victoria amazonica flowers open only at night, exuding a wonderful aroma.

 

Another version of this legend says the Moon had extraordinary powers to turn people into stars. One girl longed to be a star to be closer to the Moon, her great passion. Trying to reach him, she climbed the hills and mountains calling him: Iaci! Iaci! But her efforts were futile. One day, she not only noticed the Moon’s reflection but also heard his singing coming from the depths of the waters. She believed her beloved was calling her and threw herself into the igarapé (creek) and never returned to the surface. Pitying her bad luck, the Moon then turned her into a beautiful water star on Earth.

 

Another variation of this legend even became a theater script. The protagonists of the story are the Moon, a beautiful warrior named Jacy; the aquatic plant Uapé; and a cunhã, a young Indigenous woman named Naiá who lived like the other women of her village, cooking, weaving, working the manioc, caring for children, and modeling clay pots. In the late afternoons, she laid in her hammock and fell asleep looking at the sky.

 

One day, when Naiá went to lie down, she noticed the stars in the sky for the first time. In this contemplative attitude, she also discovered the Moon - a beautiful warrior - and, from that moment on, wished to be a star. As night came, she would run to the banks of the river, look up, and see her beloved shining among the stars. Then, in love and happy, she started singing and calling him. She spent hours and hours admiring the firmament in an attempt to visualize her beloved’s face.

 

Months went by and Naiá continued to search for the Moon’s rays, never able to get close to it. She sang every night and sometimes climbed to the top of a tree to try and touch the young warrior, but he remained distant and silent. One day, always singing and dancing, she entered a lake as clear as a mirror. She wet her feet and legs and embraced Jacy’s reflection in the water. Finally, she thought, my beloved came down to Earth to bathe with me in this lake. Frightened, the tribe observed Naiá’s behavior. One of them even tried to stop her from entering the water but she was diving, diving, and soon disappeared, drowning.

 

After the incident, while looking at that site, people saw a light appear on the surface of the lake. It turned into small round leaves which grew to be quite large, as if they were a green tray. Then a small white petal appeared and increased in size. Other petals emerged, forming a beautiful flower. The white star opened up and incensed the whole environment: it was the flower of the night. Full of remorse, the Moon had turned the dead young woman into a star of the Amazon River. Jacy had turned Naiá into Uapé.

 

And since then, when the Moon illuminates the waters of rivers, lagoons, and creeks, Uapé opens its petals to receive all her beloved’s affection, but when daylight begins comes, it closes itself. It only opens fully on full moon nights when the sky over the Amazon jungle is clear and cloudless. Naiá has definitely become the giant and beautiful flower of the waters, remaining, over time, as the queen of aquatic plants.

 

In addition to its beauty and perfume, victoria amazonica has a root - a tuber similar to yam - that is consumed by Indigenous peoples. They call it the “water oven” for its resemblance to a pot for toasting flour. Moreover, the extract of these roots (a black dye) is used to dye hair.

 

We should mention that the capsules of victoria amazonica, full of seeds, are deposited at the bottom of the waters every August. As they receive sunlight, they bury themselves in the mud more and more and harden. Such seeds are a source of food for Indigenous peoples. Local birds appreciate them, too. The latter, finally, flying in flocks, spread victoria amazonica seeds everywhere they pass thus perpetuating the existence of the river rose: the most beautiful vegetable goddess and water star.

 


Recife, December 22, 2006.

 

sources consulted

AMARAL, Rita de C. P.; ITTNER, Tânia R. C.; BAHER, Vivien I. Coleção: folclore em atividades. Blumenau: Edições Sabida, s.d.

ARAÚJO, Alceu Maynard. Brasil folclore: histórias, costumes e lendas. São Paulo: Editora Três, 1982.

CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. Dicionário do folclore brasileiro. 9. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Ediouro, 1954.

CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. Lendas brasileiras: 21 histórias criadas pela imaginação do nosso povo. Rio de Janeiro: Edições de Ouro, [s.d.]

HORTA, Carlos Felipe de Melo Marques (Org.). O grande livro do folclore. Belo Horizonte: Leitura, 2000.

 

MATOS de comer: Vitória-Régia. In: Os Alimentos e suas Curiosidades, 24 ago. 2016. [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: goo.gl/TsBjsU. Acesso em: 23 fev. 2017.


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VITÓRIA-RÉGIA. Disponível em: http://www.uape.revistampb.com.br.htm. Acesso em: 26 jun. 2006.

VITÓRIA-RÉGIA (Botânica). Disponível em: goo.gl/5gdlBe. Acesso em: 19 jul. 2006.

VITÓRIA-RÉGIA (Mitologia). Disponível em: goo.gl/060P5u. Acesso em: 19 jul. 2006.

VOLPATTO, Rosane. Vitória Régia, a deusa vegetal. Disponível em: goo.gl/Zgk06x. Acesso em: 19 jul. 2006.

how to quote this text

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Vitória-Régia. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2006. Available at: https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/pt-br/artigo/vitoria-regia/. Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009.)