These majestic water-dwellers have colorful flowers and pretty leaves, but there's so much more to them that you might not know.

By Claire Harmeyer
August 07, 2020
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The quiet beauty of a pond or lake is instantly enhanced by a water lily's rounded leaves and starry flowers floating placidly on the surface. These unique aquatic plants can bloom in a range of colors anytime from late spring through fall in most regions of the country. Their leaves can be cup-shaped, star-shaped, and smooth or jagged. And while water lilies may be most visible on the surface of still freshwater, they are rooted in the mud below, where they overwinter and regrow the following year. Here are a few more interesting facts about these amazing flowers that will likely surprise you.

variety of colorful water lilies in pond with lily pads
Credit: Bob Stefko

1. There are Many Colors of Water Lilies

When you imagine a water lily, you probably think of the classic white bloom bursting from a deep green lily pad. But water lilies actually grow in a rainbow of colors, including pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, and blue. Tropical varieties take on jewel tones (purple, orange, bright blue, and yellow), whereas hardier varieties boast a pastel palette. Sometimes hardy varieties change shades as their blooms age. Even the leaf colors vary from deep green to rich burgundy. Water lilies aren't just a one-trick pretty pony; they have lots of tricks up their sleeves.

2. Water Lilies Help Their Environment

Although they're known for their stunning appearance, water lilies are actually important players in the aquatic ecosystem. These plants are found in shallow and still freshwater such as ponds, lakes, and the edges of slow-moving streams. Because they rest on top of the water's surface, the flowers and pads provide shade above the water, keeping it cooler and preventing algae that thrives in heat from growing in excess. Water lilies also help shelter fish swimming beneath them from the heat of the sun and predatory birds.

3. July's Birth Flower is the Water Lily

Attention July birthdays: Water lily is your flower! (Along with larkspur.) It's no wonder that these bright blooms are linked to July, because they're mainly a summer flower. Water lilies bloom from May through September, putting July smack in the middle of prime water lily season. In frost-free regions, water lilies bloom year-round. But you have to be lucky to catch a water lily blooming; each individual flower lasts for about four days before sinking under the water to rot. Water lilies' beauty is short-lived, but that makes it even more special.

pink water lily in pond with lily pads
Credit: Dean Schoeppner

4. There Are Numerous Varieties of Water Lilies

Each variety of these stunners (there are over 50 species) is unique, whether it's the shape, size, color, fragrance, or blooming pattern. Water lilies are native to tropical South America, particularly Brazil, but now inhabit ponds, lakes, and streams all over the world. The largest variety of the water lily is fittingly called the giant water lily. Other names for this huge flower are the Amazon water lily and the royal water lily. This massive, magnificent flower can grow to have a diameter of three to six feet wide and can support 66 pounds of weight; that's means a young child could perch on a giant water lily pad, no problem.

5. The Water Lily Is an Important Spiritual Symbol

Water lilies mean many things in different areas of the world, but they have special significance in Buddhism and Hinduism. For these religions, the water lily symbolizes resurrection, because these flowers close up at night and reopen in the morning, similar to a spiritual rebirth. Buddhists also believe that the water lily represents enlightenment because a beautiful bloom emerges from the dark, dirty mud.

6. The Water Lily Is a Star in the Art World

The impressionist painter Claude Monet often used water lilies as the subject of his work. In fact, he painted more than 250 pieces that featured this aquatic plant, and several of them are among his most famous works of art.

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