This week, I’m going to introduce water lilies, some flowers very nice and known for being important in the ornamentation.
The Nymphaeaceae family has few species and most of them are freshwater aquatic plants in quiet places and commonly are known as water lilies. Because they are aquatic plants, the family’s name is derived from the Latin word nympha, as they have some similarity with nymphs, mythological beings with a predilection for the waters.
Water nymphs, water lilies can be seen around (Painting by Henrietta Rae, 1909).
The water lilies were originated in warm regions, but they are now subcosmopolitan and can be found in several parts of the world, living in ponds, lakes and freshwater streams.
The water lilies are perennial aquatic plants, they live several years, and are rhizomatous, that is, they have a thickened stem below the soil at the bottom of the water. In some species, we see that some leaves are immersed and others are floating on the water surface, being sometimes even membranous (they have raised edges perpendicularly upward to avoid the ingress of too much water). When this morphological difference happens, we talk about heteromorphous leaves.
Their flowers grown out of water and are constituted by a variable number of sepals, petals and stamens, which are helically born. Therefore, flowers are acyclic, that is, are asymmetrical or irregular because they have no symmetric plane. These flowers are solitary, not born grouped, and hermaphrodites, that is, both male (stamens) and female (ovary) sex organs occur in the same flower.
These perianth parts (petals and sepals) and stamens are free among them, therefore, they are not united or fused among them, and normally appear in large numbers. The stamens are different to several of other flowers, because they are laminar stamens, similar to the petals. Therefore, they are not filamentous, are thicker and wider.
Currently, the genera of water lilies which have more relevance are Nuphar, Nymphaea and Victoria, but there are also some others. Below I present some cases of very interesting species.
The tiger lotus or Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) is native of the Nile Valley and eastern Africa. It is prized as an ornamental and ancient Egyptians believed that the flower could give strength and power.
Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) (Photo taken by Meneerke bloem).
The yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) is typical of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and, as the previous one, is also very ornamental. Furthermore, it has been long used in traditional medicine. Its roots were applied on the skin and seeds and roots were eaten to treat different diseases.
Yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) (Photo taken by Oksana Golovko).
Finally, I’d want to introduce the genus of Victoria, whose pollinitation is very curious. It has two American species: V. cruziana in Argentina and V. amazonica in the Amazon and Brazil. Plants of this genus are very big, with floating leaves reaching to 2 meters in diameter and with showy flowers which can reach up to 30 centimeters and are opened at evening.When these flowers are opened, strong scents and a little heat are released and with the whitish and beige colours of the petals, they result very attractive to the beetles (Coleoptera) that are feed of starch extensions on the flowers (starch bodies). The next morning, flowers are closed and the beetles are captured within, causing them to be permeated of pollen. At afternoon, flowers are reopened and allow beetles to escape. Then, as the flowers have been pollinated, their colour varies to pink and they also lose scent. Therefore, the beetles feel more attracted to white flowers that have not been pollinated yet. Finally, the pink flowers are dipped.
On the left, V. cruziana (Photo taken by Greenlamplady); On the right, V. amazonica (Photo taken by frank wouters).
Currently, several species are used as ornamentals, decorative. Furthermore, the water lilies can also be used to get food; the seeds and rhizomes of the genera Nymphaea and Victoria are edible. On the other hand, a very curious thing is that the nerves of the leaves of some species have been used to extract a liquid, which has been applied to treat snake bites.
I hope you liked the way the water lilies behave and all their tales and uses that are associated to them, although only for its beauty are charming. If you enjoyed, do not forget to share in different social networks. Thanks for your interest.
- Bolòs, J. Vigo, R. M. Masalles & J. M. Ninot. 2005. Flora manual dels Països catalans. 3ed. Pòrtic Natura, Barcelona: pp. 1310.
- Notes of Botany and Phanerogamae, Degree of Environmental Biology, UAB.