Strelitzia reginae – Sir Joseph Banks and systems of patronage and alliance.

I came across another example of a creative process by which the names of plants in the ‘colonies’ were given a European spin. While it is not an example from this country we call Australia there is a link with Sir Joseph Banks – formerly known as “the Father of Australia.”

The increasingly familiar ‘bird of paradise’ plant has the botanical name of Strelitzia reginae. The picture below is from our back garden.
I keep seeing this plant everywhere at the moment, as though it is reminding me to write this short piece.



Wikipedia entry says that the plant is native to South Africa. See

I have not seen an indigenous South African name for this plant. But have not done an extensive search. Note also the role of Banks in Africa

Note that one variation of the plant has been reclaimed as ‘Mandela’s Gold’ – but the names for the genus remain tied to a distant European political realm.

The International Plant Names Index says:

Strelitzia reginae plate

Standard Form:

Strelitzia reginae [plate]

TL2 Author:

Banks, Joseph


Jun ? 1788


Published as t. 2 in Aiton, Hortus Kewensis vol. 1 (1789) but distributed earlier by Banks (vide D.J. Mabberley, Kew Bull. 66: 475-477. 2011)

Id: 20011982-1 Version: View Record history

Banks was a very wealthy man who financed the scientific component of the voyage of the Endeavour (two years income). I am not sure of the exact sources of his family’s fortune.

The very useful book “RHS Practical Latin for Gardeners” by James Armitage provides an illustration and some information (2016:140):



“reginae” is “Relating to a Queen, as in Strelitzia reginae


Armitage tells us that Charlotte was the wife of George III – well known as the British sovereign in whose name this continent and its offshore islands were claimed. So the name of the plant, which appears to originate in South Africa, is obtained by the marriage of a European monarch. George III was part of the German version of the British Royal Family.

Queen Charlotte was a patroness of the arts and an amateur botanist, who helped expand Kew Gardens“. Banks, President of the Royal Society, was also appointed an Honorary Director of Kew Gardens by George III. (source –


But where is the Duchy of Meckenberg-Strelitz?

A long way from South Africa!

It is by these mono-cultural means – wealthy patrons in European courts and their systems of alliance – that new names were fashioned to replace indigenous names.

To find out more about the realities this process displaced, we have to look well beyond the newly fashioned form of representation.