Nymphaea is a genus of 35–40 species of showy-flowered aquatic plants in the Nymphaeaceae (water-lily family) native to temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions in all continents except Antarctica, but with most species in the Northern Hemisphere. Numerous hybrids and cultivars of different colors, foliage patterns, fragrances, hardiness, and blooming times (day vs. night) have been developed, and are popular as ornamentals in water gardens around the world. Despite the name, water-lilies are not true lilies (which would belong to the family Liliaceae). The genus name is derived from Greek mythology, from the lesser deity Nymphe, a water nymph.
In their native habitats, water-lilies typically grow in mostly freshwater ponds, lakes, and quiet backwaters. They may be deciduous or evergreen perennials that grow from thick rootstocks or tubers, rooted underwater at depths of 8 cm (3 inches) to two meters (6 feet). Leaves are circular to oval, 4–50 cm wide, notched at the petiole (stem), and generally float on the water surface. Flowers, which range from 2–30 cm in diameter, have 4 sepals and numerous petals and stamens, and may be white, yellow, pink, red, violet, or blue. In addition to producing fruits, some of the tropical species propagate viviparously, producing young plantlets at the base of leaves or from tubers that develop in the flowers.
Water-lilies have been admired since antiquity, and are depicted in Egyptian art and artifacts from 4,000 B.C. Starting in the 1850s, plant breeders in Europe and the United Kingdom perfected methods for hybridizing them, spurring the development of thousands of cultivars. A Texas water-lily enthusiast maintains a collection of over 4,000 cultivars (as described in this New York Times September 2011 profile). Water-lilies are also famous as subject of a series of 250 oil paintings by Claude Monet (see Wikipedia).
Leaves, roots, and seeds of some Nymphaea species are edible, and have various traditional medicinal uses (see PFAF 2011).
(Atsma 2011, Everett 1981, FNA 2011, Knotts 2011, Lawson 1851, PFAF 2011, Slocum 2005, Wikipedia 2011)
- Atsma, A. 2011. “Nymphai.” Theoi Greek Mythology. Accessed 21 December 2100 from http://www.theoi.com/Nymphe/Nymphai.html.
- Everett, T.H. 1981. “Nymphaea.” The New York Botanical Garden Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horticulture 7: 2351–2357.
- FNA. 2011. Nymphaea. Flora of North America vol. 3. Retrieved 21 December 2011 from http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=122531.
- Knotts, K. 2011. “The First Hybrid Waterlilies.” Retrieved 21 December 2011 from http://www.victoria-adventure.org/water_gardening/history/first_hybrid_waterlilies.html.
- Lawson, G. 1851. The Royal Water-Lily of South America, and the Water-lilies of Our Own Land: Their History and Cultivation. Edinburgh: James Hogg. Accessed 21 December 2011 from http://books.google.com.
- PFAF. 2011. Nymphaea (see individual species accounts). Plants For A Future
- Slocum, P.D. 2005. Waterlilies and Lotuses: Species, Cultivars, and New Hybrids. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 260 p.
- Wikipedia. 2011. Water Lilies [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2011 Nov 14, 05:37 UTC. Accessed 21 December 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Water_Lilies&oldid=460563298.
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