Water lily (Nymphaeaceae family) care sheet

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Every classic pond has its characteristic water lily. These decorative plants float elegantly on the surface of ponds and lakes and burst with color as soon as their flowers bloom in any season. Water lilies are not difficult to care for and create shade and shelter areas for a wide variety of aquatic animals in your pond or other prepared plant containers.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about water lilies and add these floating plants to your freshwater pond or aquarium!


Water lilies belong to the Nymphaeaceae family, which will contain around 6 recognized genera as of October 2020. Of these, Nymphaea is known for some of the most beautiful and hardy species.

In general, there are two types of water lilies in the hobby: hardy and tropical. Hardy water lilies can withstand lower water temperatures and usually come back like a perennial in the next spring. Tropical water lilies must be kept at tropical water temperatures at all times. They can be brought inside for colder times of the year, or brand new plants can be replanted the following year like an annual.

Is a water lily the same as a lotus?

No, a water lily is not the same as a sea lotus. Water lotuses belong to the Nelumbonaceae family, the only known genus being Nelumbo. This is a completely different family from water lilies (Nymphaeaceae family), although they were once considered to be one and the same.

Nelumbo sp. Have peltat leaves, which means that the petiole clings near the center of a completely rounded leaf; as we shall discuss later, Nymphae sp. have a characteristic slit that runs from the edge of the leaf to the center. Seed production and germination are also very different between the two families.

Natural habitat

With around 70 different species, water lilies thrive in many different temperate and tropical ecosystems. Water lilies are found on almost every continent, be it as an invasive species or as an endemic population. They are usually found in pond and lake ecosystems with little to no water movement, as they can be easily damaged and submerged, preventing the facility from performing adequate gas exchange.

Water lilies are rooted in the ground, so they need relatively calm conditions that don’t slide around their iconic lily pad leaves and large flowers. While they usually do best in shallower waters, hobbyists have had success growing them between 4 to 6 feet (122 to 183 cm). In general, it is best to plant water lilies in shallow conditions rather than randomly planting them in deeper waters.

These plants are an important aspect of many pond and lake ecosystems as they provide food and shelter for many different aquatic species, including frogs, fish, and insects. Water lilies are also an important herbal addition to many man-made waterways for decoration and nutrient absorption. However, their hardiness and relatively rapid reproduction can lead to overgrowth and clogged waterways, especially in some invasive species. Care should be taken to keep invasive plant species away from natural inlets and bodies of water.


In general, water lilies are very easy to identify, although sometimes they can be confused with sea lotuses. The main way to tell the difference between the two is to determine if the blade has a slit. Water lilies come in many different shapes and sizes, although there aren’t many types. Most species are easily recognized by their green and waxy, rounded water lily petals, on which a living flower sits effortlessly on the surface of the water.

Water lilies only bloom once a season. This is one of the easiest ways to identify them, as many lily pad leaves can look similar on different species. During the spring and summer months, the flowers only bloom for around 2 to 4 weeks. Once you start the cube, the withering flowers can be removed.

Some common types of water lilies that you are likely to come across both in nature and in the pondkeeping hobby are:

American white water lily (Nymphaea odorata). The American white water lily is also native to North America and is also known as the fragrant water lily or beaver root. As the name suggests, the flowers open and close with the sun, releasing a strong scent. The flowers are relatively large and white with a yellow center; The leaves can reach a diameter of 8 inches and have the characteristic V-notch. American whitewater lilies are typically found in deeper and calmer areas at depths of up to six feet.

Mexican water lily (Nymphaea mexicana). The Mexican water lily is known for its beauty and its invasive distribution throughout much of the southern United States. Also known as the yellow water lily or the banana water lily, these plants have beautiful yellow flowers and oval, notched leaves that can reach a diameter of 9 inches.

European water lily (Nymphaea alba).The European water lily looks very similar to the American white water lily, but has much wider petals and many small yellow stamens in the center. The leaves are almost the same size as well, but can reach 25.4 cm (10 inches). European water lilies are found in most European countries, as well as parts of Asia and North Africa.

Requirements for the water lily tank and pond

Most water lilies can tolerate a wide variety of environmental conditions when it comes to lighting and nutrients. Some hobbyists can keep these aquatic plants in glass aquariums and rubber tubs while others plant them in their outdoor pond.

In general, it is best to use a species of water lily that is endemic to your area. Not only does your plant better withstand normal conditions, but you also run the risk of accidentally introducing an alien plant into a non-native ecosystem.

The water parameters should always be checked with enough nutrients to maintain your aquatic plants. A relatively neutral pH of around 7.0 must be maintained and no salt should be able to enter the system. Most species require 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight to properly produce flowers. If you want to keep tropical water lilies, the water temperature shouldn’t drop below 21.2 ° C and heating may be needed.

It’s important to note that water lilies are delicate plants and can easily tear or drown if they’re too close to a fountain or if the water current is otherwise too strong. Water lilies use stomata on the top of their leaves for gas exchange. If water covers them, they will not be able to carry out the necessary processes.

Do water lilies need soil?

Water lilies anchor themselves in the substrate by digging their roots into the ground. However, water lilies are best for adobe or clay-and-loam mixtures, as most of the ingredients in typical potting soil are too buoyant to submerge and weigh the plant down.

Plant water lily

Water lilies grow best when planted in a large clay pot first. Fertilizer can be mixed with this mixture, as water lilies can be a demanding feed in terms of nutrient absorption. Dead leaves or other signs of decay should be removed before the plant is placed in the center of the pot. The mixture should then be covered with a rocky top layer to prevent fish from stirring up the dirt and causing cloudy water.

This pot can then be submerged in the pond or any other prepared container.

Water lily care

Water lilies are relatively easy to care for, especially if you want to keep the hardy species. Like any plant, water lilies need pruning for both decay and overgrowth. Look for yellowed and torn lily pad leaves and remove them as necessary. Dying plants can lead to rot, which can affect the entire pond or lake ecosystem!

It is also important that you trim your water lily collection regularly. As mentioned earlier, some species of hardy water lilies have infiltrated local waterways and clogged drainage routes. Letting your water lilies get too out of hand can affect gas exchange and nutrient levels.

Most likely, your water lilies will need no more fertilizing than the initial dosage used in the potting mix. However, tropical water lilies and other designer species may occasionally need supplementation, especially if the system is low in bio-load.

Propagation of water lilies

Hardy water lilies are most likely to breed on their own. However, if you have a particular pond design, you may want to be in control of where they spread. More desirable and tropical water lilies are also popular choices for propagation as some can go for high prices. Depending on the type of water lily you have, you may need to reproduce in a specific way.

Some species form plantlets in the middle of their leaves that eventually grow into individual plants when the leaves begin to die. This process is known as viviparous spread. These little plants may initially look like small bumps in the middle of the leaf. Once identified, separate the leaf from the mother plant and let it float and naturally decay on its own. As soon as a root system has developed from the plant, these water lilies can be transferred to their own pots and desired locations.

Otherwise, water lilies use rhizomes for reproduction. These rhizomes can be carefully pruned and transplanted into a new pot to grow a completely new plant.


Water lilies are beautiful aquatic plants that naturally adorn calm lake and pond ecosystems around the world. There are many types of water lilies, but generally they can be classified into either hardy water lilies or tropical water lilies. Hardy water lilies are much more forgiving of seasonal climates and generally withstand harsher conditions. Tropical water lilies require a constant tropical water temperature and a little extra care to ensure their flowers are in full bloom.

Otherwise, water lilies are great surface pond plants that can help absorb excess nutrients and provide food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife.

If you have any questions about water lilies or other pond plants, or if you have any experience with these surface plant species, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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