Water lilies

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Water lilies
White water lily (Nymphaea alba)

White water lily ( Nymphaea alba )

Subdivision : Seed plants (Spermatophytina)
Class : Bedecktsamer (Magnoliopsida)
Order : Water lilies (Nymphaeales)
Family : Water lily family (Nymphaeaceae)
Subfamily : Nymphaeoideae
Genre : Water lilies
Scientific name

The water lilies ( Nymphaea ) are a genus of plants in the family of the water lily plants (Nymphaeaceae). The genus, which is common worldwide, comprises around 50 species .

Description and ecology

Water lily species are rarely annuals . Most are perennials and herbaceous plants . These aquatic plants form elongated or bulbous rhizomes with which they are anchored in the mud of rivers, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.

Most types of water lilies have heterophyllia . Two types of alternate and helically arranged leaves are formed: floating leaves and underwater leaves . The simple leaves have long stalks. The leaf blade is often shield-shaped (peltat), heart-shaped or arrow-shaped. The leaf margin is smooth or serrated. Stipules are present or absent.

The single, hermaphroditic flowers have a screwy structure and are often fragrant. The spectrum of flower colors ranges from white to yellow and red to blue; Varieties can also bloom orange, green, purple, or lavender. The mostly four (rarely three or five) free sepals are mostly greenish. There are six to 50 free petals available. The 20 to 750 free stamens are all fertile or show morphological transitions to the petals as staminodes . The five to 35 carpels are an upper continuous or partially continuous ovary fused partially or completely. The styles end in wide and concave stigmas corresponding to the number of carpels . The pollination is effected by insects ( Entomophilie ). There are night and day flowering species.

The fleshy, spongy, berry-like fruits are crowned with durable scars. After fertilization, the ripening fruits are usually pulled under water and ripen under water. The mature seeds are up to 5 mm in size. They form swimming bags with which the seeds initially float to the surface of the water, where the wind and currents spread them for two to three days. Then the swimming bag dissolves, the seeds sink down and begin to germinate.

Adaptation to the habitat

As a water plant, the water lily is one of the hydrophytes and has some special adaptations that can be seen, for example, in the leaf cross-section. The aim of these morphological adaptations is to make the leaf buoyant (large, air-filled intercellular spaces) and to increase the transpiration rate (large leaves, epidermis with very thin or without cuticula). Neither the upper nor the lower epidermis have stomata, since the gas exchange takes place exclusively via diffusion. The palisade fabric is very dense and multilayered in order to guarantee a high light yield.

Plant anatomy

Figure 1: Cross section of a floating leaf of Nymphaea,

Fine section specimen, transmitted light at 400 ×.
E1: upper epidermis, E2: lower epidermis,
P: palisade fabric, B: vascular bundle, M: sponge fabric,
I: intercellular space, S: sclerenchyma.

Figure 2: Cross section of the stem.

Systematics and distribution

Subgenus Anecphya : Large water lily ( Nymphaea gigantea )
Subgenus Brachyceras : Nymphaea caerulea
Subgenus Hydrocallis : Illustration by Nymphaea rudgeana (1905)
Subgenus Lotos : Nymphaea pubescens
Subgenus Nymphaea : fruit of the white water lily ( Nymphaea alba )
Time-lapse film of an opening water lily blossom
Water lily paradise in the Kleiner Kotzower See

The genus Nymphaea was set up in 1753 by Carl von Linné in Species Plantarum , 1, pp. 510-511. Type species is Nymphaea alba L. Synonyms for Nymphaea L. are: Castalia Salisb. , Leuconymphaea Ludw. ex Kuntze .

The worldwide distributed genus Nymphaea includes over 50 species, it is divided into two groups with a total of five subgenera.

Group Apocarpiae Caspary
It contains two sub-genera:
  • Subgenus Anecphya Conard : It contains about eleven species in Australasia :
  • Nymphaea alexii S.WLJacobs & Hellq. : It is endemic to a small area in Queensland .
  • Nymphaea atrans S.WLJacobs : It occurs only in northern Queensland.
  • Nymphaea carpentariae S.WLJacobs & Hellq. : It occurs only in northern and central Queensland.
  • Nymphaea elleniae S.WLJacobs : It occurs in western Papua New Guinea and northern Queensland.
  • Nymphaea georginae S.WLJacobs & Hellq. : It occurs in the Australian states of Northern Territory and Queensland.
  • Large water lily ( Nymphaea gigantea Hook. , Syn .: Castalia gigantea (Hook.) Britten , Leuconymphaea gigantea (Hook.) Kuntze , Nymphaea gigantea var. Hudsoniana F. Henkel et al. , Nymphaea gigantea f. Hudsonii (anon.) KCLandon , Nymphaea gigantea var. hudsonii anon. Nymphaea gigantea var. media F.Henkel et al. , Nymphaea gigantea var. neorosea K.C.Landon , Victoria fitzroyana hort nom inval):... It comes in the Australian states of New South Wales , Northern Territory and Queensland before.
  • Nymphaea hastifolia Domin : It occurs in the northern Northern Territory and northern Western Australia .
  • Nymphaea immutabilis S.WLJacobs : It occurs with two subspecies in Irian Jaya and in the northern Northern Territory, northern Queensland and northern Western Australia.
  • Nymphaea macrosperma Merr. & LMPerry : It occurs in the eastern Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea and northern Northern Territory, northern Queensland and northern Western Australia.
  • Nymphaea ondinea Löhne et al. : The two subspecies are endemic to a small area in Western Australia.
  • Nymphaea violacea clay. (Syn .: Nymphaea brownii F.M.Bailey , Nymphaea casparyi Rehnelt & F.Henkel , Nymphaea gigantea var. Violacea (clay.) Conard , Nymphaea holtzei Rehnelt & F.Henkel , Nymphaea holtzei var. Albiflora Rehnelt & F.Henkel nom. Inval. , Nymphaea holtzei var. eleonorae Rehnelt & F.Henkel , Nymphaea rehneltiana F.Henkel , Nymphaea violacea var. coerulea clay. ): It occurs in Papua New Guinea and northern northern Territory, northern Queensland and northern Western Australia.
  • Subgenus Brachyceras Caspary : It is pantropically distributed and contains about 18 species:
Group Syncarpiae Caspary
It contains three sub-genera:
  • Subgenus Hydrocallis : It contains about 14 species:
  • Subgenus Lotos DC. : It contains only three to four species:
  • Tiger lotus ( Nymphaea lotus L. , Syn .: Nymphaea zenkeri Gilg ): It is common in Africa and tropical Asia. This also includes:
  • Nymphaea pubescens Willd. (Syn .: Nymphaea spontanea K.C. Landon ): It is widespread in Asia and Australia.
  • Nymphaea rubra Roxb. ex Andrews : It occurs in India and Bangladesh.
  • Subgenus Nymphaea
  • Section Chamaenymphaea (Planch.) Wiersema
  • Dwarf water lily ( Nymphaea tetragona georgi ): It is widespread in Eurasia and North America.
  • Section Eucastalia Planchon : It contains only three to four species:
  • Actual fragrant water lily ( Nymphaea odorata Aiton subsp. Odorata ): It is distributed from Canada to the USA to Mexico and El Salvador, Honduras to Nicaragua as well as in the Bahamas, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
  • Tuberous water lily ( Nymphaea odorata . Subsp tuberosa (Paine) Wiersma & Hellquist , Syn .: Nymphaea tuberosa Paine ): It is distributed by the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to the north-east to north central United States.
  • Section Xanthantha (Casp.) Wiersema : It contains only one species:
  • Mexican water lily ( Nymphaea mexicana Zucc. ): It is distributed from southern North to Central America.


A large number of varieties have been bred from some species. They are used as ornamental and aquarium plants .


Dioscorides , Pliny and Galen distinguished a "white-flowered Nymphaeia" ( Nymphaea alba - white water lily ) from a "yellow-flowered Nymphaeia" ( Nuphar lutea - yellow water lily ). The name "nymphaeia" was derived after Pliny from the fact that a nymph died out of jealousy of Heracles and became a water lily. Because of the club shape of its roots, the plant was also called "rhopalon". Consumption of this root should cause impotence in men for several days . Derived from the damp and cool place of growth, it was especially prescribed against hot diseases such as dysentery .

The similarity of their ripe fruits to the poppy seed capsules led to the name "Papaver palustre" - "Swamp poppy" and to the recommendation of their use against pain .

The yellow color of the root was interpreted as an indication of a relationship to the body juice “cholera” (yellow bile, hot temper…) and so it was called “Kollerwurz” in pharmacies in the 15th and 16th centuries. Accordingly, they were used to treat diseases that arose from an imbalance in the body's fluids (“phlegm” / phlegm - “blood” / sanguis - “yellow bile” / cholera - “black bile” / melancholia ), and when the cholera was in excess or “spoiled”.

Finally, the hair-like shape of the root network suggested its use against hair loss and against skin diseases .

At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the water lilies were reluctantly removed from the lists of the Materia Medica .


Historical illustrations


  • John H. Wiersema: Nymphaea : Nymphaea - Online , In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee (Ed.): Flora of North America North of Mexico , Volume 3 - Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae , Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1997. ISBN 0-19-511246-6 . (Section Description and Distribution)
  • Dezhi Fu, John H. Wiersema & Donald Padgett: Nymphaeaceae : Nymphaea , p. 116 - Online. , In: Wu Zhengyi, Peter H. Raven & Deyuan Hong (Eds.): Flora of China , Volume 6 - Caryophyllaceae through Lardizabalaceae , Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St. Louis, 2001. ISBN 1-930723- 05-9 . (Section Description and Distribution)
  • Nymphaea in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), USDA , ARS , National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Accessed June 22, 2013. (The database provides an up-to-date overview of all currently scientifically accepted species and their distribution. The editor for Nymphaea in this database, John Wiersema , is an internationally recognized expert on this genus.)
  • Nymphaea in the Western Australian flora . (Section description)

Web links

Commons : Water Lilies ( Nymphaea )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Seerose  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Perry D. Slocum: Waterlilies and Lotuses . Timber Press 2005, ISBN 0-88192-684-1 ( online version from Google Books ) Nymphaea at pp. 77-214.
  2. from HS Conard from: The waterlilies: a monograph of the genus Nymphaea. Publ. Carnegie Inst. Wash. 4 (1905), p. 172
  3. ^ Nymphaea at Tropicos.org. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, accessed June 22, 2013.
  4. a b c Nymphaea in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), USDA , ARS , National Genetic Resources Program. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  5. Christel Kasselmann : aquarium plants. Ulmer Verlag, Stuttgart 1995; 2nd, revised and expanded edition 1999, ISBN 3-8001-7454-5 , p. 377 ( Nymphaea x daubenyana ) and 462 ( Nymphaea micrantha ).
  6. Pedanios Dioscurides . 1st century: De Medicinali Materia libri quinque. Translation. Julius Berendes . Pedanius Dioscurides' medicine theory in 5 books. Enke, Stuttgart 1902, pp. 349-350 (Book III, Chapter 138): Nymphaia (digitized) ; (Book III, Chapter 139): Other Nymphaia (digitized version )
  7. Pliny the Elder , 1st century: Naturalis historia book XXV, chapter xxxvii (§ 75–76): Nymphaea (digitized version ) ; Translation Külb 1855 (digitized version )
  8. Galen , 2nd century De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus , Book VIII, Chapter XIII / 9 (based on the Kühn 1826 edition, Volume XII, p. 86): Nymphaea (digitized version)
  9. First printing: Rome 1481, Chapter 70 (digitized version )
  10. Avicenna , 11th century: Canon of Medicine . Translation and adaptation by Gerhard von Cremona , Arnaldus de Villanova and Andrea Alpago (1450–1521). Basel 1556, Volume II, Chapter 515: Nenufar (digitalisat) ; De viribus cordis . Revision by Andrea Alpago. Venice 1555, sheet 564v: Nenufar (digitized)
  11. Constantine the African , 11th century: Liber de gradibus simplicium . Pressure. Opera . Basel 1536, p. 361: Nenufar (digitized version )
  12. Circa instans 12th century print. Venice 1497, sheet 204v: Nenufar (digitized version )
  13. ^ Pseudo-Serapion 13th century, print. Venice 1497, sheet 118r (No CXLIIII): Nenufar (digitized)
  14. ^ Charles Victor Daremberg and Friedrich Anton Reuss (1810–1868). S. Hildegardis Abbatissae Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum Libri Novem. Physica , Book I, Chapter 215: Nimphia . Migne, Paris 1855. Sp. 1208 (digitized version ) - Translation: Herbert Reier: Hildegard von Bingen Physica. Translated into German after the text edition by JP Migne, Paris 1882. Kiel 1980, p. 64: Nimphya is cold and is not grown. It is like a useless herb and does not do much good, nor does it do much harm.
  15. ^ Konrad von Megenberg , 14th century: Book of nature. Output. Franz Pfeiffer . Aue, Stuttgart 1861, p. 410 (V / 54): Sewurz (digitized)
  16. Cpg 226 , Alsace, 1459-1469, sheet 27v: Har zu wachssen. Item changes a krut jn the ryn do he stands still vnd has a thick sheet and a gel roß vnd daz krut should be siden with the gel roses and should be forced with (digitized)
  17. Cpg 558 , Nordbayern, around 1470–1485, pp. 22v – 23r: Plümen dÿ weÿssen with the brown leaves dÿ float on the lakes: the water is usually good for all red spots against the eyes that are hot. if it takes all the heat in itself: and makes white hawt and it cultivates the heart and the life of the gods and it erases all fewer people: - (digitized)
  18. Cpg 545 , Nuremberg (?) 1474, p. 116r – v: See plumenn for the rotten vntter the eyes Item See plumenn the white with the preitten platten the float on the face the water is usually good for all roett vntter den eyes From hot to be wan it needs all hicz in itself to the livers and with a cloth on the side of the livers laid the cult it heart swelled and cult also the heart and where you put it on fifty things bulged or the cult it for that wild fewer Vnd deletes all fewer on people placed on it (digitized)
  19. Michael Puff : Booklet of the burnt-out waters . 15th century print Augsburg (Johannes Bämler) 1478: Seeplumen (digitized)
  20. Herbarius Moguntinus , Mainz 1484, Part I, Chapter 98: Nenufar (digitized version )
  21. Gart der Gesundheit . Mainz 1485, Chapter 279: Nenufar (digitized version )
  22. Hortus sanitatis 1491, Mainz 1491, Part I, Chapter 309: Nenufar (digitized version )
  23. Hieronymus Brunschwig : Small distilling book , Strasbourg 1500, sheet 101v – 102r: Seblumen (digitized version )
  24. ^ Otto Brunfels : Contrafayt Kreüterbůch . Johann Schott, Strasbourg 1532, p. 3: Seeblum (digitized version )
  25. Hieronymus Bock : New Kreütter Bůch . Wendel Rihel, Strasbourg 1539, Part II, Chapter 47: Sea flowers (digital copy )
  26. Leonhart Fuchs : New Kreütterbuch… Michael Isingrin, Basel 1543, Chapter 203: Seeblumen (digitized version )
  27. ^ Pietro Andrea Mattioli : Commentarii, in libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei, de medica materia. Translation by Georg Handsch, edited by Joachim Camerarius the Younger , Johan Feyerabend, Franckfurt am Mayn 1586, sheet 305r – 306v: Seeblumen (digitized)
  28. Nicolas Lémery  : Dictionnaire universel des drogues simples. , Paris 1699, p. 538: Nymphaea (digitized version) ; Translation. Complete material lexicon. Initially drafted in French, but now after the third edition, which has been enlarged by a large [...] edition, translated into high German / By Christoph Friedrich Richtern, [...]. Leipzig: Johann Friedrich Braun, 1721, Sp. 793–794: Nymphaea (digitized version )
  29. Albrecht von Haller (editor): Onomatologia medica completa or Medicinisches Lexicon which explains all names and artificial words which are peculiar to the science of medicine and the art of pharmacy clearly and completely [...]. Gaumische Handlung, Ulm / Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig 1755, Sp. 1074-1075: Nymphaea (digitized version )
  30. ^ William Cullen : A treatise of the materia medica. Charles Elliot, Edinburgh 1789. Volume II, p. 314: Nymphaea (digitized) . German. Samuel Hahnemann . Schwickert, Leipzig 1790. Volume II, p. 356: Seerose (digitized version)
  31. ^ Jean-Louis Alibert : Nouveaux éléments de thérapeutique et de matière médicale. Crapart, Paris, Volume II, 1804/05, pp. 113-115: Nenufar (digitized version ) ; 5th edition 1826, Volume III, pp. 32–34: Nenufar (digitized version )