The Nymphaeacaea family has 8 genera and 70 species, five of which can be called Lotus.
Water lilies are aquatic plants that grow in still waters throughout the tropical and temperate world. They grow from rhizomes beneath the soil at the bottom of a water feature and have long, tubular stems that bring oxygen from the waxy green leaves that float on the surface to the underwater parts of the plant. The leaves are round and often notched, the classic lily pad shape. Flowers are produced in singles and occur in various colors according to species. These flowers may also float on top or may be raised above the water on a stiff stem.
Some water lily species
- Fragrant Water Lily Nymphaea odorata aka Beaver Root. Found from Central America throughout North America and especially in the Great Lakes region. Flowers are white or pink with bright yellow stamens and float on the water’s surface. They open in the morning and then close in the heat of the day. Once they are pollinated, they descend beneath the water’s surface. This plant can be an invasive problem along North America’s West coast.
- Yellow Pond Lily Nuphar polysepala aka Spatterdock, Cow Lily. Native to Western North America. The flowers are bright yellow, globe-shaped and held high above the water surface.
- Star Lotus Nymphaea nouchali or Nymphaea stellata, aka White, Red or Blue Water Lily is native to India and Australia and is the birth flower for the month of July. It is also, when white, the national flower of Bangladesh with the blue color representing Sri Lanka. The flowers are held high above the water and are usually blue with reddish coloration along the edges. Flowers are also occasionally white, purple or red.
- Egyptian Blue water lily Nymphaea caerulea– also called the Egyptian blue lotus (it is not a lotus). This is the sacred blue lily of the Nile. It is Native to the Nile region and East Africa. The flowers are pale blue with bright yellow stamens. They open in the morning and close in the late afternoon.
- Egyptian White water lily Nymphaea lotus – AKA Egyptian white lotus (also not a lotus), Tiger Lotus is native to East Africa. The flowers are white, sometimes tinged with pink and have bright yellow stamens.
- European White Water Lily Nymphaea alba AKA Nenuphar, Loch Lily. Is Britain’s largest flower. White flowers with bright yellow stamen. There is also a bright red variety.
- Yellow Water Lily Nuphar lutea is native to Europe, Western Asia and Northwest Africa. Bright yellow flowers are held high above the water on thick stems.
History and Folklore
The Latin family name Nymphaeaceae and genre Nymphaea recalls the Nymphs of ancient Greek and Roman mythology who inhabited waterways, wells, and springs.
The water lily was particularly revered in ancient Egypt where it symbolized the upper kingdom, while the papyrus flower symbolized the lower kingdom as well as the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth and the Sun. There is an Egyptian creation myth that the Sun God, the first being, the Creator who banished the darkness emerged from a primordial water lily. Ancient priests may have used the blue water lily, possibly in combination with Mandrake, to achieve a trance state as part of funerary rituals.
Growing in the Garden
Water lilies are tough plants that are easy to grow in a variety of conditions provided they have still or slowly moving water to grow in and a sunny spot. They are mostly pollinated by beetles but will also be visited by bees and flies. Water lilies spread on rhizomes which can grow to an enormous size. You will need to provide room or thin them periodically.
Some imported and hybrid species of water lily have escaped their home gardens and become noxious weeds in various areas, starving out native plants. Check your local extension before purchasing your water lilies to make sure that you are getting either a native or a non-invasive variety or ensure that your pond or water garden is isolated from all surrounding waterways.
Water lilies are food for a number of wildlife species including beavers, muskrats, and nutria.
Water Lily for Healing
The leaves of Nuphar polysepala have been traditionally used to stop bleeding and a poultice may be made from the roots to help relieve the swelling of wounds.
The root of Nuphar polysepala may also be used for inflammation. A poultice may be used or a decoction may be used as a gargle for mouth inflammation and sore throats.
Nymphaea nouchali is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat indigestion. It is called Ambal.
The scent of a water lily is said to have general healing properties.
Water Lily Magick
Water lily resonates with the energy of the moon and the water element.
The flowers and stems of any water lily can be used in spells designed to reduce sexual cravings.
Either Nymphaea lotus or Nymphaea caerulea (or both) may have been used by priests to encourage trance states and by party goers as a mildly hallucinogenic aphrodisiac. The petals would have been steeped in wine. No dosage information is available and experimentation is not recommended.
The petals of Nymphaea alba were steeped in wine to produce a sedative or an aphrodisiac while the stems and roots were said to have an anaphrodisiac effect. Alcohol was traditionally used to extract the active chemicals, but it was not considered safe to use in quantity.
Magical correspondences for Water Lilies
Gods: Nefertem, Ra
Planet: Moon, Neptune
Zodiac Sign: Cancer
Water Lily Symbolism
In general, water lilies are associated with rebirth and optimism as they return to waterways after the rains, even if they dried up the previous season. The water lily also symbolizes fertility, sexuality, and creation.
White water lilies symbolize peace, purity, pleasure and spiritual enlightenment. In ancient Greece, white water lilies symbolized modesty.
Other Uses for Water Lilies
The root of the yellow water lily may be crushed and boiled in milk to prepare a bait to get rid of beetles and roaches. Burning the root is said to repel crickets.
Water Lilies as Food
The flower buds of Nymphaea odorata may be cooked and eaten for food. The roots are also reported to be edible, but not tasty. The seeds Nuphar polysepala can be roasted and eaten or made into a porridge.
For More Information
The International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society
The Lotus and the Water Lily; Correcting the Confusion
The Sacred Narcotic Water Lily of the Nile
The Egyptian ‘Lotus’; The Blue Water Lily
Growing Water Lilies at Better Homes and Gardens