Waterlilies ~ the quiet jewels of the pond

What are waterlilies

The scientific name for the water lily is “Nymphaea”, which comes from the Greek word “nymph”. According  to Greek mythology, Nymphaea means a feminine spirit who inhabited water bodies like wells, waterways, and springs.  The history behind waterlilies is traced back thousands of years as they have always been very significant in many cultures around the world.

Purple and white waterlilies

There are over 50 different species of water lilies which are native to the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. Waterlilies beauty is very short-lived, as they only bloom for around 4 days, which makes them even more special. Besides waterlilies being one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, they have a starring role in many cultures and religions.  Waterlilies also play a very important role in the aquatic system.


The flowers and their lily pads rest on the surface of the water providing shade, food, and a hiding place for fish and other aquatic animals. Lily pads provide a resting place for frogs, dragonflies, and other small lightweight birds, such as the comb-crested jacana.

Comb-crested Jacana tiptoeing on the lily pads
Comb-crested Jacana tiptoeing on the lily pads (Mt Borradaile, Arnhemland NT, Australia)

Once waterlily flowers have finished blooming, they will go underwater and transform themselves into a fruit. The seeds that these fruits produce will eventually grow and produce a new flower which will rise above the water, constantly reblooming.

Pink waterlily

The fruit that waterlilies produce can also be eaten.  In many parts of the world waterlilies are used for medicinal purposes, such as treatment for fevers and skin conditions. Roots can be used to make tea and oils to help with coughs and mouth ulcers.

Waterlily from Mt Borradaile, Arnhemland, NT Australia
Waterlily from Mt Borradaile, Arnhemland NT Australia
Where do waterlilies grow

Waterlilies are found virtually everywhere in the world, and are also the most photographed flower in the world.  They grow in still or slowly moving waters, such as ponds, billabongs, lakes, rivers, in tropical and sub-tropical waterways.  They have thick stems deeply buried in the mud below the surface of the water which sprout long stalks up to the water surface, producing a single flower. Flowers range in colours from white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple, and blue. Waterlilies are perennial plants, meaning that they flower every year regrowing their leaves and flowers from their rhizomes when the water temperature is optimal.

Bamurru Plains wetlands with thousands of waterlilies across the billabongs, Northern Territory Australia
Bamurru Plains wetlands with thousands of waterlilies across the billabongs, Northern Territory Australia
symbolism and meaning of waterlilies

There are many stories about the water lily.  Some believe that they are a star that fell from the sky, which turned into a flower, others believe that the water lily represents freedom.

In many parts of the world water lilies are an important religious symbol. The flowers represent ideas, emotions, beauty, sexuality, fertility, and enlightenment. The most significant meaning is optimism and rebirth as these plants bloom in the waterways every year.

There are different meanings of waterlilies, in various countries around the world based on certain cultures and practices. Common symbolic meaning of waterlilies in most cultures include optimism and rebirth. Waterlilies are the July birth flower.

A trio of waterlilies

The Egyptians consider the waterlily as a sacred flower and believe the waterlily depicts the unity of people, represents the sun and is a symbol of the circle of life, birth and death. A waterlily symbol is often seen in stone alters, parts of Egyptian temples, and pillars of monuments. The blue waterlily is called the Lily of the Nile and referred to as the ‘flower of love’. Many ancient Egyptian paintings are associated with naked women holding a blue water lily bud or flower – which signifies a woman’s fertility, creation, and ability to produce children.

Purple waterlily against lily pad under side with veins

In Asia the water lily symbolises ‘universality”, as the flower produces blossoms and fruits which help feed people.


For Buddhists, the water lily symbolises ‘enlightenment’.  This is because the beautiful flower emerges from the dark, dirty mud. The different coloured water lilies have different representations.  A red lily symbolises love and passion, purple symbolises mystic power, white, mental purity, pink and blue lilies symbolises ‘knowledge’’.

White waterlily

For Hindus the water lily symbolises ‘resurrection’.  This is because the water lily closes at night, and with the first ray of sun next day, it blooms again. Hindus see waterlilies as a symbol of ‘purity’, as despite the water lily growing in muddy water the flower grows clean, pure, and free of any blemishes.


Waterlilies symbolise purity and chastity, and is associated with the Virgin Mary. The flowers are often used in bridal bouquets as a representation of love.


In Bangladesh waterlilies are called ‘shapla’, and are the national flower of Bangladesh. The flowers can be found in almost every body of water.The waterlily flowers symbolise love and life with water lilies at every religious ceremony.

‘The star of the art world’

The impressionist painter Claude Monet often used water lilies as the subject of his work. He painted more than 250 paintings that featured ‘his waterlilies’, several of which are among his most famous works of art.

Waterlilies at New York Botanical Gardens
Waterlilies at New York Botanical Gardens
Purple waterlilies
Waterlilies NT Australia
Waterlilies at Mt Borradaile, NT Australia
Meaning of each colour of waterlily 

Pink – respect and femininity 

Orange – liveliness and confidence.

White – rebirth and purity, revival of the soul

Pink – respect and femininity

Red – passion and love

Orange- liveliness and confidence

Purple – success and pride

Blue – romance 

Purple water lily reflections
The largest waterlily in the world

Victoria amazonica or Giant water lily, found in the Amazon basin is the world’s largest waterlily. They were first discovered in 1801 in Bolivia, and are now indigenous to the Amazon River basins shallow waters. The enormous floating leaves are around 3 metres in diameter with a thick underwater stalk of up to 8 metres long.   Beneath the leaves they have thick riblike ridges keeping the lily pads supported, flat and afloat. The underside of the lily pads has sharp spikes to protect them from being eaten by fish and other aquatic animals. The flowers are beautiful but only live for around 48 hours. This waterlily is the national flower of Guyana.

Victoria Amazonia or Giant Waterlily, New York Botanical Gardens
Victoria Amazonica or Giant Waterlily, New York Botanical Gardens
Please enjoy the short video of the Giant Amazonian Water Lily

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