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  • Writer's pictureDon Yurewicz

White Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata)

White Water Lily - photos by Don Yurewicz

White water lilies in South Cove. Notice the sharp V-notch on the leaves which distinguish White Water-Lilies from Yellow Water Lilies. Photo by Don Yurewicz

White water lily is a floating-leaved plant with lobed leaves and spectacular white flowers. Long, elastic stems rise toward the water surface from fleshy rhizomes buried in the sediments. Stems may be faintly striped, and are round in cross-section, containing a bundle of four large air passages.

The leaves are fairly round in shape (4-12 inches in diameter) with a narrow pie-shaped notch dissecting the circle between two (often overlapping) lobes. The notch between the lobes extends to the stem on the underside of the leaf. The lobes are bluntly to sharply pointed, with the tips gently flaring outward (like a cat's ear). The tops of the leaves are leathery and green; the undersides are reddish purple.

The strongly-fragrant flowers are large (2 1/2 to to 8 inches in diameter), with numerous white petals arranged in a circular cluster around a delicate spray of yellow stamens. The flowers are produced on separate flower stalks arising directly from the rhizome. Native water lilies with pale pink flowers also occur. The dark pink forms, however, are thought to be hybrids with the horticultural Nymphaea alba. Though not native, the dark pink form is not generally considered invasive. (Source: Maine Field Guide to Invasive Aquatic Plants)

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