The Water Lilys. Below the White Water Lily Nymphaea alba.

Image courtesy of DerHexer CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Nymphaea alba in Duisburg.jpg


Here we review the two common species of Water Lily and Commence with the White water lily Nymphaea alba ,referred to as the European Water Lily . It is also known by the names of White water rose, or the White Nenuphar dependent on location.

They are found all over Europe in parts of North Africa and in the Middle East in fresh water. Here in the UK it is probably the largest flower produced by any British wild plant. 


This impressive plant has stout underwater stems. The circular leaves float on the surface and may be up to 30 cm across. They are green above and reddish beneath. The large showy white flowers are up to 20 cm across each flower having about 20 petals,the four sepals are green on the back and white inside, they are shorter than the petals. The stamens are prominent and of a yellow colour. The flowers float on the surface and the end of long stems.

The fruit is a globular capsule  

The flowers only open fully in full sun and start to close when the sun is on the wane.

Image courtesy of CrimsonC at English Wikipedia whom has placed the image in the Public domain.

Historical Uses of the White water Lily.

The root of this species contains tannin, gallic acid and mucilage. They also contain starch, gum, resin, sugar, ammonia, tartaric acid etc.The root was considered astringent,demulcent, anodyne, and antiscrofulous by herbalists and used against afflictions such as dysentry,diarrhoea and leucorrhoea  externally.

The leaves and roots have been utilized in poultices and applied to boils and scrofulous ulcers and inflamed skin and an infusion was used as a gargle  for mouth ulcers and sore throats.

Although the roots and stalks were widely used in traditional medicine  it is thought that the petals and other flower parts are the most potent. The root of the plant had been used for centuries by monks as an anaphrodisiac being crushed and mixed with wine. Old authors of herbals at that time maintained its use but warned against consuming it in large or frequent doses. 

The above information is for historical interest only and not meant has a guide to self medication. This plant can be dangerous if the wrong part, wrong dose, or wrong preparation is applied or consumed. 

A Red variety in Sweden

Image courtesy of Entheta CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Water lilys in a domestic setting.

There is a red variety of this species Nymphaea alba 'rosea' which was cultivated from Lake Fagertarn in the forest of Tiveden, Sweden, where they were discovered in the 19th century. This species was exploited to the extent that the species was on the brink of extinction in the wild before it became protected by law. The flowers of this species were red or rose coloured as the variety name suggests.

The Yellow water lily. Nuphar lutea.

Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert  CC BY-SA 3.0 license.Nuphar lutea (habitus).jpg

Yellow water lily. 

The other common species of water lily is the Yellow Water Lily  Nuphar lutea, which has been given local names such as Brandy bottle because of the shape of the fruit capsules and because the flowers are said to give off an aroma which resembles stale alcohol. It occurs on still or slow flowing water throughout temperate regions of Europe , north-west Africa and western Asia. In the UK it occurs throughout however, it is absent from much of northern England and northern Scotland.


The white water lily may produce the largest flowers of any British wild plant but this species produces the largest leaves of any British water plant up to 40 cm x 30 cm. The flowers are smaller than the previous species with about twenty tiny yellow petals inside five large sepals.The flowers are sometimes greenish on the out side. 

The flowers and leaves grow from a stout and fleshy under water branched stem.The large leaves are thick and leathery. The submerged leaves are more arrow shaped and crinkly.  The flowers are succeeded by flask-shaped seed pods which are prominent.

The plant flowers from June until August.

The flask-shaped fruit capsules were said to resemble small spirit bottles.

Image courtesy of Kristian Peters. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

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