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.
Localities documented in Tropicos sources
Brazil (South America)
Ecuador (South America)
United States (North America)
Colombia (South America)
Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
- Forzza, R. C. & et al. 2010. 2010 Lista de espécies Flora do Brasil. http://floradobrasil.jbrj.gov.br/2010/. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100002289
- Molina Rosito, A. 1975. Enumeración de las plantas de Honduras. Ceiba 19(1): 1–118. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/866
- Idárraga-Piedrahita, A., R. D. C. Ortiz, R. Callejas Posada & M. Merello. 2011. Flora de Antioquia. Catálogo de las Plantas Vasculares, vol. 2. Listado de las Plantas Vasculares del Departamento de Antioquia. Pp. 1-939. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100008595
- Cornejo S., X. & C. Bonifaz. 2003. Nymphaeaceae. Fl. Ecuador 70: 4–24. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1030241
- USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge. http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/100004579
Depth range (m): 1.25 - 1.25
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Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
|Specimen Records:||34||Public Records:||5|
|Specimens with Sequences:||28||Public Species:||2|
|Specimens with Barcodes:||27||Public BINs:||0|
|Species With Barcodes:||7|
Locations of barcode samples
The name Nymphaea comes from the Greek term "Νυμφαία", possibly related to "Νύμφη" meaning "nymph". The nymphs in Greek mythology were supernatural feminine beings associated with springs, so the application of the name to delicately flowered aquatic plants is understandable. Despite its common name "water lily" (water-lily, waterlily), Nymphaea is not related to the true lily, Lilium.
The main plant is submerged, with large floating, plate-like leaves and showy flowers in many different colours produced in spring. Blue flowers are only produced by the tender species, e.g. N. caerulea. The fruits, containing many seeds, are produced in the autumn, and are also submerged. The leaves have a radial notch from the circumference to the petiole (leaf stem) in the center.
Nymphaea (Egyptian lotus) is not related to the Chinese and Indian lotus of genus Nelumbo. But it is closely related to Nuphar, another genus commonly called "lotus". In Nymphaea, the flower petals are much larger than the sepals, whereas in Nuphar the petals are much smaller than its sepals. The fruit maturation also differs, with Nymphaea fruit sinking below the water level immediately after the flower closes, whereas Nuphar fruit are held above water level to maturity.
The Egyptian Blue Water-lily, N. caerulea, opens its flowers in the morning and then sinks beneath the water at dusk, while the Egyptian White Water-lily, N. lotus, flowers at night and closes in the morning. This symbolizes the Egyptian separation of deities and is a motif associated with Egyptian beliefs concerning death and the afterlife. The recent discovery of psychedelic properties of the blue lotus may also have been known to the Egyptians and explain its ceremonial role. Remains of both flowers have been found in the burial tomb of Ramesses II.
A Syrian terra-cotta plaque from the 14th-13th century B.C.E. shows the goddess Asherah holding two lotus blossoms. An ivory panel from the 9th-8th century B.C.E. shows the god Horus seated on a lotus blossom, flanked by two Cherubs.
Water-lilies are not only highly decorative, but provide useful shade which helps reduce the growth of algae in ponds and lakes. Many of the water-lilies familiar in water gardening are hybrids. The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-
- 'Escarboucle' (orange-red)
- 'Gladstoniana' (double white flowers with prominent yellow stamens)
- 'Gonnère' (double white scented flowers)
- 'James Brydon;' (cupped rose-red flowers)
- 'Marliacea Chromatella' (pale yellow flowers)
- 'Pygmaea Helvola' (cupped fragrant yellow flowers)
Water lilies have several edible parts. The young leaves and unopened flower buds can be boiled and served as a vegetable. The seeds, high in starch, protein, and oil, may be popped, parched, or ground into flour. Potato-like tubers can be collected from the species N. tuberosa.
- William G. Dever; Did God have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel; page 221, 279.
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- Peterson, Lee Allen (1977). A field guide to the wild edible plants of Eastern and Central North America. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 22.
- Subdivisions of genus Nymphaea
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