Water Lily Facts

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Sulphurea Hardy Water Lily

Waterlilies are an essential feature for every water garden.  They are one of the oldest, most sacred plants used as an important native species to many people in several countries for food and medicine.  The water lily family- Nymphaeaceae- is one of the oldest plant families of water plants found scattered throughout the world.  There are four other genera in this family- Euryale (Gorgon plant), Nelumbo (Lotus), Nuphar (Spatterdock) and Victoria (Amazon Lily).

Tropical Water Lily

There are 40 species of water lilies (Nymphaea) worldwide and many hybrids that are split into two main groups- Hardy and Tropical. The differences are in temperature hardiness, leaf structure, flower color and performance.   Typically the brighter & more colorful the flower, the more complex it’s genetic history.

Hardy Water Lilies are:

  • Day Bloomers, flowers come in peach, changeable, pink, red, white and yellow.  Flowers usually lay on the waters surface or slightly above. Many are scented.
    Hardy Water Lily
  • Leaves have rounded and smooth edges 1″-12″ wide depending upon species/variety. They have a split that runs from the outer edge to the middle of the leaf that joins the stem (petiole).
  • Hardy, from zone 3 (Alaska) to zone 9 (Florida).  They can stay in your pond year round.  New purchases can be placed into pond in April.

Tropical Water Lilies are:

  • Day or night blooming, flowers come in stunning, often electric colors of red, pink,
    Tropical Water Lily

    white, yellow, green, purple and “blue”.  Most flowers are scented and stand high above the water surface.

  • Leaves are rounded to oval shape, with a split and have wavy edges.
  • Tropicals need a water temperature of 65-70 deg. F.  New plants must be put in the pond when it’s warm, usually in May or June.  Thermal pots can help keep your tropical warm, or you can over winter them inside or treat as an annual.

How Water Lilies Grow:  The leaf starts growing from the root crown (rhizome) outward and as the leaf ages the petiole grows long and reaches the water surface.  They grow and multiple spreading several feet.  As the leaf ages, it yellows and dies and new ones take their place. Waterlilies breathe through stomatas on the top of their leaves, another reason why they prefer more stiller water.

Purple Tropical Lily-Left, Hardy Pink-Right

Flowers grow straight upward from the crown until they reach the water surface. Some older lily varieties have only one flower blooming at one time, with most newer varieties 6-7 flowers or more open at one time. Most individual flowers last around 5 days, opening and closing every day (or night).

Flower Types:  Classified as Stellate (star shaped), Rounded, or Peony-shaped.  Petal count is between 12-100 with the outer sepal usually green, inner petals colored.  In the center is the stigmatic disc which is usually yellow or orange, where pollination happens.

If you would like to learn more about Waterlilies- see my other blogs on  Water Lily Care and How to Pot Water Lilies.  Kerri Bailey, The Pond Pad www.alpinegrows.com

Kerri Bailey is the owner of The Pond Pad water garden store located inside Alpine Nursery in Puyallup, WA.  Kerri has been working with aquatic plants and herbs since 1989 while she was undergoing her BS in Biology.  She has been working in the horticulture and water garden industry since 1998.