The Fabulous Floating Water Lily

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Loved by flower fans and frogs the world over, water lilies are floating-leaved aquatic plants in the plant family Nymphaeaceae. Native to South America, they only live in fresh water that is shallow and still. There are 70 known species of water Lily found all over the world in both temperate and tropical areas.

Water lilies grow with their roots anchored in the soil at the bottom of a pond. They produce leaves or pads along with blooms that float on the water’s surface. The flowers stand above the water on slender stalks. There are two classifications of water lilies–hardy and tender or tropical. While the hardy variety is bred for cold tolerance (they’ve been found growing wild in Alaska!), tropicals prefer water temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Renowned for their beauty, hardy water lilies are commonly white and yellow with a watery-wildflower look. They bloom only in the daylight, gently closing at night. Tropical varieties often have many more petals and more intense colors. Tropicals will bloom any time of the day or night and stay open until they fade. When the lilies close up for good, the underwater stalks curl up so the lilies become submerged and, inside the closed petals, the pollinated flowers develop seeds.

With plenty of water all around them, water lilies have a big advantage over other flowers. They don’t need adaptations to absorb, move or collect water. They save energy because they don’t need to grow elaborate root structures of vascular tissues. Plus, the buoyant water keeps them afloat, so they don’t need additional support. Their fibrous root systems take up nutrients from the soil below.

Aside from adding beauty to any pond or garden pool, water lilies create shady retreats from the hot summer sun and protection for fish to hide from predators. The shade also protects against algae blooms and helps keep the water aerated. The pads also provide a gentle resting place for frogs and dragonflies.

On a cautionary note, while the lovely lilies are fine in a controlled environment, they can wreak havoc with the ecosystems in lakes, natural ponds and wetlands. Their fast reproduction poses a risk to native species.

The best news for water lily lovers, though, is that you don’t need a pond to grow them! Because they thrive in containers, you can plant them in something as simple as a pot. Late April or early May is the best time to plant water lilies in the Northern Hemisphere, and you can find everything you need at most garden centers. A great step-by-step article is available from Better Homes & Gardens at projects/water-gardens/growing-water-lilies/

Water Lilies are the celebrated national flower of Sri Lanka and the birth flower for July. They serve as the source for perfumes and were repeatedly used in the oil paintings of French impressionist Claude Monet. Aside from seeds and live plants, water lilies are available in a countless number of gift forms—from earrings, pendants and bracelets to pottery, placemats and prints. And, if you really want to knock someone’s socks off, $43 Million might just buy you a Monet water lily original.

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