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Washington State Department of Ecology > Water & shorelines > Freshwater studies > Lake water quality > Aquatic Plant Guide home > Floating Leaved Rooted Plants > Nymphaea odorata

Aquatic Plant Identification Manual for Washington's Freshwater Plants

Floating Leaved Rooted Plants

Species: Nymphaea odorata, fragrant waterlily, white waterlily
Family: Nymphaeaceae

Fragrant waterlily is perhaps the most familiar of all aquatic plants. It commonly grows around lake and pond margins and can be recognized by the fragrant white, pink to purple, many-petaled flowers that float on the water surface. The large, round, floating leaves have a distinctive slit on one side. Due to its attractiveness, this nonnative plant has been introduced to many lakes in Washington. It can be invasive in lakes with extensive shallow areas.

Leaf: The round, smooth, green, leathery leaves are up to 30 cm in diameter and have a slit on one side. The underside is often red or purplish with numerous veins. The leaf stalk is attached to the leaf center at the base of the slit.

Stem: No true upright stem is present. Straight, flexible stalks attach leaves and flowers to thick, submerged rhizomes.

Flower: Large, fragrant flowers, 6-12 cm across, are located at the ends of long stalks. The flowers have numerous (20-30) white, pink, or purple petals with yellow centers. After fertilization, the flower stalk curls like a corkscrew, drawing the flower underwater. Blooms June through October.

Fruit: Leathery, berry-like capsules, to 3 across, with numerous small seeds (2 mm).

Root: Thick rhizomes, 2-3 cm in diameter.

Propagation: Seeds, rhizomes.

Importance of plant: Rhizomes and leaves were used by native Americans in eastern North America as remedies for a wide variety of ailments, from colds to ulcers. The leaves and roots are eaten by beavers, muskrats, porcupines, and deer, the seeds are eaten by waterfowl. It can become a nuisance in shallow lakes. A favorite aquatic garden plant, many varieties have been cultivated.

Distribution: Native to eastern North America. Widely introduced in the Pacific Northwest.

Habitat: Ponds, shallow lakes, slow streams, in water 3-6 feet deep.

May be confused with: Spatterdocks (Nuphar spp.), which have heart-shaped leaves and bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers. Water-shield (Brasenia schreberi), which has smaller, slimy-coated Invasive Nonnative Plant Iconleaves and leaf stalks attached to the middle of the leaves. Yellow floating-heart (Nymphoides peltata), which has smaller leaves and yellow flowers. Other native and introduced Nymphaea species.
Photographs: Nymphaea sp.

Line Drawings: Nymphaea odorata

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