No flower beats a water lily or a water lotus flower in the world of blooming aquatic plants. 

Both are pond plants that emerge from rhizomes and share a rich color palette, but few easy methods tell them apart.

In the past, both belonging to the Nymphaeaceae family, about twenty years ago, the category was split into Nympheacee and Nelumbonacee, based on the differences that affect each morphological part of the plant: flowers, leaves, and rhizomes.

However, there are superficial differences between exotic flowers if you know what to look for. 

Table of Contents

1. Definition

Water Lily

Water lily is a genus of herbaceous aquatic plants from the Nymphaeaceae family. Their natural habitat is stagnant or slowly flowing freshwater of subtropics and temperate climates. 

The plant is found in the Far East, Urals, Central Asia, Russia, Belarus, and neighboring countries. In addition to the usual name, it is called “child of the sun” or “nymphaea.” 

The water lily is shrouded in various legends. The white nymph turned into a water flower because of her unrequited love for Hercules. 

According to other beliefs, each flower has an elf friend. If you decorate your small pond with this flower, the owner receives a lot of health and economic benefits in addition to aesthetic pleasure.

Water Lotus

Lotus belonging to the Nelumbonaceae family is a perennial flowering aquatic and semi-aquatic plant.

They grow with a thick rhizome that stores nutrients. The plant is grown in closed reservoirs or open parks of southern countries.

This unique plant grows in muddy, stagnant waters and has beautiful snow-white, pink, yellowish flowers. 

They open early in the morning when the sun appears above the horizon, and they always turn towards it, and in the evening after sunset, they close. 

The Chinese are sure that after the death of people, their souls are embodied in lotus flowers growing in the lakes of paradise. 

But the climate of paradise is not suitable for everyone, so the plants that personify the souls of the righteous bloom, grow, smell forever, and those that have become the personification of sinful souls wither very quickly.

2. Morphology

Water Lily

Morphology of Water Lily - water lotus vs water lily
Perianth cycle A. Biseriate, homochlamydeous, with outer and inner perianth parts (tepals) similar. B. Biseriate, dichlamydeous, with distinct calyx and corolla. C. Uniseriate, with a single whorl of perianth parts, by default termed a calyx| Figure from book Plant Systematics by Michael G. Simpson

Water lily is an aquatic perennial with a long horizontal rhizome. It clings to silt and grows deeper in shorter vertical branches. 

The thickness of the cord-like horizontal roots is about 5 cm. Large petiolate leaves grow from the buds at the nodes of the stem. 

Some are located in the water column, but most are on the surface. The heart-shaped, almost rounded leaf plate is very dense. Its size is 20-30 cm across. 

The edges of the leaves are solid, and the surface can be monochromatic or two-colored: green, brown, pinkish, light green.

The first flowers begin to appear in May-June. The flowering period can last until frost, although a single flower lives only 3-4 days. 

In the evening, the petals close, the peduncle shortens and pulls the flower under the water. In the morning, the opposite process happens.

Usually, the corolla consists of 4 sepals similar to petals but are more intense in color. Behind them in several rows are large oval petals with a pointed edge. 

The petals can be white, cream, pink, or red—the latter transform into smaller flattened stamens. A pistil is visible in the very core. 

The diameter of a water lily flower is 6-15 cm. The flowers exude a pleasant aroma of varying intensity.

Water Lotus

water lotus morphology - water lotus vs water lily
Indian/Chinese water lotus. A. Whole plants, showing emergent, peltate/concave leaves, and flowers. B. the Whole flower, showing numerous tepals. C. Flower close-up; note numerous stamens and enlarged receptacle. D. Receptacle longitudinal-section, with sunken pistils at the apex. E. Close-up of pistils in longitudinal section, showing apical placentation. F. Fruit, an aggregate of nuts, sunken in an accrescent receptacle. G. Close-up of fruit, longitudinal section, showing nuts| Figure from book Plant Systematics by Michael G. Simpson

Lotus leaves have a rounded, funnel-shaped shape with a diameter of 50 cm to 70 cm. The flowers are relatively large, about 30 cm in diameter, have numerous white or pink petals, raised on a straight peduncle above the water. 

A response zone is located under the attachment point of the pedicel. Thanks to this, the flower changes position depending on the sun. 

The middle of the flower consists of numerous bright yellow stamens and a vast receptacle. The scent of the flowers is quite pleasant but almost invisible.

It has a long stem that connects the flower’s corolla with the rhizome, which extends in the bottom soil of the reservoir for sufficiently long distances up to 350 km and more.

The wax coating covering the surface of the petals and leaves prevents moisture from accumulating on them. It collects in tiny droplets and rolls down.

The surface of the above-water parts of the plant glows under the sun’s rays like a mother of pearl. 

3. Seed

Water Lily

When the water lily is pollinated, a fruit appears on the peduncle, in the form of a seed capsule; it reaches full maturity underwater, opening there and giving seeds. 

Water lily seeds first stay on the surface, thanks to a thick slimy secretion, then washed by water, become heavy, sink to the bottom of the reservoir and grow.

Water Lotus

At the end of flowering, a fruit of the reverse conical shape is formed. It has a multi-root, consisting of many nests, each of which has a brown seed the size of a peanut. 

There are about 25-30 of them in one fruit. Lotus seeds can remain viable for a long time. 

Each is located inside a strong shell, consisting of two layers, closely connected and not allowing moisture to pass through. 

One point of the seed is sharp – the remainder of the floral stigma, the other end has a slight depression. At this point, the lotus seed is attached to the mother plant.

4. Types

Water Lily

Beautiful water lily and leaf - water lotus vs water lily
Beautiful water Lilies and their leaves (aNymphaea ‘Hermine’, (bN.’ Marliacea Chromatella’, (cN. ‘Wanvisa’, (dN. ‘Gigantea Hybrid1’, (eN. Colorata, (fN. ‘Muang Wiboonlak’, (gN. ‘Piyalarp’, (hN. ‘Agkee Sri Non’, (i) leaf ornamental Victoria water lily| Image by Fei Chen and team

The water lily has become widespread worldwide and has absorbed about half a hundred species. The main varieties include:

I. White Water Lily

It inhabits all of Eurasia, as well as Africa. A giant water lily has impressive foliage of about 35 cm and large, milky flowers reaching a diameter of about 20 cm. 

The root system is robust on the soil’s surface, tenaciously grasping the silt with long root processes. 

II. Red Water Lily

It has a beautiful shade of flowers from dark pink to red with medium buds. The root system is shallow, well developed. It has one main stem and several additional ones. 

The diameter of the flowers ranges from 12 to 20 cm. The leaves are fleshy, bright green in color, reaching about 25 cm in size.

III. Blue Water Lily

The plant’s foliage is sinewy, large, about 35 cm long. Flowers with such large foliage seem small, reaching a size of 16-20 cm. The shade of the petals varies, from sky blue to cornflower blue, purple, and blue.

IV. Tiger Water Lily

The peculiarity of the tiger water lily is created precisely by the pattern of the leaves (brown and red spots). 

Africa is considered the birthplace of the tiger nymph. Its flowers are small, white, or creamy. Though the root system is well developed, it does not tolerate fast currents and cold water bodies.

V. Victoria Water Lily

The Victoria Water Lily was discovered by the German botanist and naturalist Eduard Pelling in the 19th century. 

The shade of perhaps the largest flower changes from white to pink during the flowering process. 

In full bloom, the Amazonian water lily can reach 35 cm. Victoria Lily has a persistent, noticeable scent, and its foliage can support the weight of a teenager.

VI. Yellow Water Lily

The yellow water-lily belongs to perennials with a well-developed root system deep in the ground. Above-water floating leaves are oblong, large, up to 20 cm in diameter. 

The flowers are large, green on the outside, yellow on the inside, and about 17 cm. Flowering begins in June and lasts almost until September.

Water Lotus

various lotus flower variations - water lily vs water lotus
Lots of Lotus flower variations| Image by Anjana Geroge

I. The nut-bearing lotus (Nelumbo Nucifera)

The plant has large leaves, towering above the water, pale green below, and dark green above. 

The waxy bloom gives a light bluish tint to the entire plant. Large lotus flowers, 25-30 cm in diameter, have a pink color do not have a strong but pleasant aroma. In the flower’s center, there are many bright yellow stamens. 

Sufficiently large single-seeded nuts (fruits) 1.5 cm long, with a thick pericarp, are located in a cone-shaped receptacle. 

The first lotus leaves appear in May, and it blooms in late July or early August. The flowering period ends in late autumn.

II. Yellow lotus or American lotus (Nelumbo Lutea)

The yellow lotus practically does not differ from the nut lotus, except for the flower color and flowering duration. 

The plant’s flowers are bright yellow, open at sunrise in May, and fold into buds by noon. Flowering lasts no more than five days, and then it drops the petals.

It is widespread in the North American and South American continents. The flower is quite large fragrant can be found in snow-white or cream color.

5. Legend

Water Lily

There are many extraordinary legends about the origin of this beautiful plant. The legends say it got its name in honor of the nymphs that live, like these plants, in the water. 

In Slavic tales, the idea of water lilies is associated with the mysterious image of a mermaid. Scandinavian legends say that each water lily has its friend – an elf born and dies with her. 

An ancient Greek legend about a water lily tells how a beautiful white nymph, inflamed with love for Hercules and did not receive a response from him, turned into a white water lily from grief and love for him.

The legend of the North American Indians says that the water lily appeared during the collision of the Pole and Evening Stars from their sparks. 

These two stars argued who would get the arrow the Indian leader shot into the sky and collided in flight.

According to North German belief, water lilies grew on the site of two dead mermaids, who were killed by the evil Nix (in ancient German mythology – a mermaid), who lived in the lake.

An Italian legend says that the water lilies are the children of the beautiful blonde Countess Melinda and the ugly, terrible swamp king who kidnapped her. 

Water Lotus

The sacred lotus flower has been worshiped for many centuries; it is honorable in religious ceremonies, traditions, and legends.

It is evidenced by numerous monuments of writing, architecture, and art. More than five and a half thousand years ago, the Egyptians depicted lotuses on tombs and the altars of sacrifices. 

It symbolized the resurrection from the dead, although, in Egyptian hieroglyphs, it meant joy and pleasure. 

The mythological tradition of Ancient India represented the earth as a giant lotus blossoming on the surface of the waters and paradise as a vast lake overgrown with beautiful pink lotuses, where righteous, pure souls dwell.

The ancient Indian epic “Mahabharata” describes a lotus with a thousand petals, shone like the sun, and scattered a delicious scent. This lotus, according to legend, lengthened life returned youth and beauty.

The white lotus has been an indispensable attribute of divine power. For Hindus, the lotus flower is a symbol of purity. 

With such purity, Hindu mythology endowed the goddess Shri, or Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, who was considered the patroness of fertility and prosperity. She was called “born of a lotus,” “standing on a lotus,” “painted with a lotus.”

Many Hindu Gods have traditionally been depicted standing or sitting on a lotus or holding a flower. 

Buddha sits on it, and Brahma rests. Vishnu, the demiurge of the universe, has a lotus in one of his four hands

And in China, the lotus was revered as a sacred plant. The flower also personifies purity, virtue, fertility, and productive power. 

In addition, it is a symbol of summer and is one of the eight emblems of fortune-telling.

6. Medicinal Properties

Water Lily

All plant parts contain many active substances, such as starch, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, fatty oils, proteins, tannins, alkaloids, glycosides. 

The crushed raw materials are brewed and taken orally to combat headaches, amenorrhea, insomnia, hepatitis, bladder spasms, diarrhea, and tumors. External use of the decoction helps get rid of inflammation on the skin.

Water Lotus

The composition of various flower parts includes both psychotropic and biologically active substances, including proteins, fats, aromatic oils, sugar, starch, vitamins, trace elements (copper, manganese). 

Therefore, it is used as a medicinal plant, tinctures from which have a lot of valuable properties. 

Preparations made using various parts of the lotus are used as immunostimulating agents, with excessive depletion of the body, and so on.

People in East Asian countries grow it like a typical vegetable for human consumption. Lotus roots can be eaten raw and added to various dishes that require heat treatment (frying, boiling) and pickling. 

The leaves are used as an alternative to asparagus. Seeds are processed to produce starch, sugar, flour, oil.

Comparison Table

Comparison parameters Water LilyWater Lotus
MorphologyIn water lilies, the buds are above the surface. Lotus petals are often sharper in shape, and the bud is raised above the water.
HabitatWater lilies are usually found in stagnant water.The lotus can live both in running water and in stagnant water.
SeedWater lily seeds are small, oval in shape, and not as strong.Lotus seeds have a denser rind that is very difficult to break. The lotus seeds are oval.
LeavesThe leaves of the water lily are thick.Lotus leaves are thin and soft.
Flower ColorsThey are often seen in white color.They are often seen in pink color.
OriginWater lily is found in the Native Americans.Lotus occurs in northern India to northern Indochina.
ScentWater lily has a strong odor.Lotus has a mild scent.


Water lily and water lotus both are beautiful aquatic plants dating back centuries. Both share the greatest legends, and both are considered important from the religious point of view. 

Today both aquatic plants are used for decorative purposes and are grown in artificial ponds and reservoirs. 

Both have valuable medicinal and healing properties that have been used and valued since ancient times. Above all, the view of both lowers put the person in awe and full of admiration. 

An exciting read, right! If you want to go through such information, check out our article on the difference between river otters and sea otters.

(Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.