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Water Lily Meaning and Symbolism

Water Lily Meaning and Symbolism

Water Lilies are a gorgeous flower species used for their ethereal beauty in landscaping, tattoos, and artwork.

The symbolism of this water-growing flower is many, from beauty with a dangerous side, unity, finding balance and peace, or rising to the spiritual world.

These flowers also have medicinal properties in many cultures. There are two types of water lilies – hardy or tropical.

Overview of a Water Lily

Water lilies got their name from the Greek word nymph and encompassed a family of flowers called Nymphaeaceae. Within this family of 58 species from three genera is the Nymphaea, a popular plant growing in ponds.

Nymphea translates to nymph; a mythical feminine creature found living in lakes, wells, or rivers. These beautiful creatures protected the waters where they lived, drowning anyone who entered the water. The history of water lilies dates back thousands of years and across multiple cultures.

Although there are many different water lilies, most share similar traits. All species of water lilies grow from a rhizome. They grow best when buried under the water in the soil that stays wet and muddy. 

All water lilies also have a complex flower structure of interlocking petals that give this flower its iconic shape. And best of all, some species have flowers in every color. Then some emit a slightly sweet fragrance. 

Tropical water lilies have flowers that bloom at night and are annuals. But hardy water lilies will bloom during the daytime and are perennial.


Some water lilies have been around since pre-historic times, once growing on the same ground where the dinosaurs roamed. 

Cultivation of these lilies dates back to the Babylonian and Assyrian periods. However, the 1800s through 1900s saw the popularity of these flowers spreading through North America and Europe.

These flowers are now frequently chosen for ornamental purposes in bodies of water. In addition, wildlife and fish often feed on these plants. But many species are thought of as invasive due to their fast growth and reproduction.

Common Names

You can also find water lilies named for the location they grow. For example, there’s the common pond lily in the US – Nymphaea odorata or North American white water lily. The European white water lily is Nymphaea (N.) alba. 

You can also find ten species of water lilies throughout the Northern Hemisphere, which fall under the genus Nuphar. Popular common names of some of these flowers include cow lily, common yellow water lily, and spatterdock (Nuphar advena)

The appearance of the Amazon and Santa Crus water lily leaves results in the common name water platter. Amazon lilies are also called the royal or giant water lilies.

Leaves, Flowers & Seeds

Many Water Lily species have similar traits. You can identify these flowers due to rounded leaves – Lily Pads – with a waxy coat and various notchings growing on long stalks. 

The stalks grow from underwater stems buried in the mud. These fleshy, thick stalks support the singular showy flowers that grow around the water’s surface. 

The flowers form a cup shape while the petals stack to create a spiral. And each bloom has many stamens – male reproductive parts. Some Water Lily species only open in the morning, while others only get pollinated by insects at night. 

And Water Lilies also produce fruits, typically like a berry or nut. Depending on the species, these fruits may ripen under the water’s surface, whether they decay or rupture. The seeds inside then spread, resulting in new Water Lily growth.

The leaf color and shape can vary by Water Lily species. For example, the North American and European white Lily produces reddish leaves with deep narrow notches and fragrant flowers. And the LotusLotus from Egypt features long stalks and toothed leaves with night-blooming white flowers.

Tropical South American water lilies grow the largest, at one time prompting the placement in a separate genus – Victoria -although they are now back in the Nymphaea group. 

The Amazon – N. amazonica (previously Victoria Regia) and Santa Crus (N. cruziana) feature thick veiny leaves with upturned edges resembling a shallow pan with a diameter of 2 to 6 feet. 

Species within the Nuphar genus have thin, translucent submerged leaves and floating leaves that are leathery. And the two species in the Barclaya genus – native to Indonesia and Asia – are identifiable from a perianth tube that combines the petals and sepals.

How to Plant Water Lilies

All Water Lily species – except the Euryale genus only grown in Asia – are perennial and will continue to come back year after year without needing new seeds.

These flowers require a water source to grow in, whether a freshwater pond, lake, or large pot. When growing in pots, you’ll need one that has more width than height. Fill the bottom of the pot with topsoil, then add your Lily.

Anchors go on top of the soil on both sides of the plant to provide a place to attach. 

Next, fill the container with water. It can take a couple of months before you notice your plants growing enough to produce flowers on top of the water. 

How to Care for the Water Lily

Most Water Lily species bloom during the summer months, with flowers emerging between May and September. However, a few species bloom in the fall and produce flowers all year in the right warm conditions.

If grown indoors, you’ll need a space that allows the flowers to get maximum sunlight – 4 to 8 hours of full direct light each day. It is possible to use artificial light directly above the flowers, running for 12 to 18 hours daily. 

Tropical species require water temperatures above 60-degrees to prevent death, but above 70 makes them thrive. Temperature is not as important for hardy species; as long as it’s steady, but 68 is an ideal goal.

When adding water, it needs to be distilled or spring. Let it sit uncovered for 24 hours if you’re using tap water before adding it to your Lily. Pruning is also encouraged to prevent the water from becoming stagnant at the first sign of anything dead.

Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For

Water Lilies are a hardy species that isn’t vulnerable to many things. However, animals that may get into the water with the flowers can pose a slight threat. For domesticated plants, dogs are a common irritant. 

The growth in water also puts these lilies at risk of fungal infections. But most of these outbreaks are treatable with homemade cures or commercial chemicals, making these flowers easy to grow. 

Beetles do like to feed on water lilies. If you notice these insects on your flowers, remove them by hand to prevent damage. 

What Is the Water Lily Meaning?

Water Lilies mean beauty, rebirth, peace, essence, and the circle of life, due to the plant’s unique growth needs. 

Why Are Water Lilies So Special?

Water lilies are uniquely special due to the method of their growth. These flowers require water to grow. These flowers submerge under the water as they form into fruit.

Once seeds form full size, they float to the surface and spread out across the water. The seeds then bloom into new water lilies. 

Another special thing about this type of lilies is their ability to purify the water where they grow. These filtration properties are beneficial for other aquatic plants and fish. 

Then there’s the age of water lilies. This species is among the oldest water plants found in the world. Scientists have identified fossils of water lilies that date back more than 60 million years! 

Botanical Meanings

Water lilies are a cultural phenomenon across the world. For example, indigenous communities in El Salvador, Mexico, and Nicaragua consider Water Lilies a sacred symbol from the gods and goddesses.

And in places like Ghana and Nigeria, these flowers are revered for their medicinal properties. The natural cooling abilities of Water Lilies make them useful for treating conditions like fevers or skin problems that cause a rise in body temperature.

White water lilies can also work as a topical treatment to reduce swelling around the eyes, mouth, and other sensitive areas. It can also reduce bruises, sores, and other inflammations.

Teas and oils made with the roots from the water lily plant can treat blemishes, coughs, and mouth sores. 

But beware when working with White Water Lilies. There are two types frequently mixed up – Nymphaea tuberosa or Nymphaea odarata. Tuberosa species are poisonous and best avoided.

What Do Water Lilies Symbolize?

In Italian and Greek cultures, water lilies symbolize chastity, purity, and innocence. But they are also associated with nymphs due to being water flowers.

The connection with water also makes water lilies symbolic of birth and essence and the circle of life of every person. Water Lilies are the birth flower of July and the Bangladesh national flower, representing the country’s beauty and resilience. 


There are different meanings for water lilies in Asia. On this continent, these lilies – or more specifically the LotusLotus – are symbolic of universality – represented by the fruit produced by water lilies, a type of food.

In today’s world, it’s recommended not to consume this fruit due to its being poisonous. However, there have been reports of Asians using them to feed their populations throughout history.

Most parts of the Lily are poisonous if consumed by today’s standards; there is documentation that water lilies were once a viable food source.

And in China, water lilies are a symbol of 100 years of love and good luck, making them popular for wedding bouquets.

Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, the water lily is symbolic of the nation’s unity. The blue water lily represents the Sun, which they thought was a sign of rebirth, creating the cycle of life. Many Egyptians placed water lilies in temples. 

Ancient Egyptians also used various types of Water Lily blooms to symbolize the Lower and Upper halves of the Ancient Egyptian empire. Water Lilies represented the Upper side, while a papyrus flower represented the Lower side.


Hundreds of years ago, Mayans considered water lilies a sacred flower. But today, they are more ornamental. Or for stopping soil erosion. 

Religious Symbolisms

Water lilies appear in many religions around the world. For example, in Buddhism, water lilies – plus Lotus – are symbolic of enlightenment. 

Buddhists use water lilies to represent the spiritual journey of becoming enlightened. However, because the Lily grows trapped underwater, it still produces a beautiful flower, showing the power of personal growth. This symbolism is a common reason why the Water Lily symbolizes meditation practices.

For Hinduism, water lilies are connected with resurrection. Every night, the flower of a water lily dies. But every morning, it revives itself to full bloom. They are also pure due to growing from mud, meaning there are no toxic particles.

Water lilies are also symbolic of purity and innocence in the Christian Bible. Therefore, you often see these flowers present in wedding bouquets, for this reason, also representing love.


Your feelings towards water lilies can also reveal things about your personality. Appreciating the beauty of water lilies is often from people with characteristics of patience and self-control. Water lilies can also represent feelings of personal growth or that you’re unclear on life. 

Symbolism Based on Colors

When choosing a bouquet to give someone, many people focus on the color of the flowers. However, each color has a different definition, making it important to know what each represents.

  • White: peace, purity, innocence, grief
  • Pink: friendship, joy, youth, knowledge (most revered color)
  • Red: passion, love, romance, wealth
  • Orange: success, fun, power
  • Purple: mystic power
  • Yellow: good health, new starts, energy
  • Blue: recovery, wisdom, calm
  • Green: family, money, growth

Water Lily Varieties and Cultivars 

The most popular species of Water Lily is Nymphaea, desired for use as bouquets of cut flowers or for growing in backyards. 

Popular cultivars include Pink Beauty and Attraction. But the rapid reproduction of Water Lilies has caused cultivars like Mexican Water Lily to become invasive.

Water Lilies are originally from climates that were more tropical or cooler worldwide. But you won’t find them growing in environments with extreme cold. You can find variations of Water Lilies in Northern Africa, North America, the Mediterranean, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. 

Pink water lilies are the most common type, with light pink leaves inside and darker pink on the outside with round, bright green lily pads and fragrant flowers that grow up to 7″. 

The easiest water lily to propagate is a North American native – Fragrant. This fast-growing species reaches a 7″ diameter with white petals and fragrant flowers.

Colorado water lilies have pink flowers and burgundy lily pads with the potential to reach five feet across in mild climates.

Afterglow is one of the most attractive species, with orange petals and a heady fragrance that can get up to eight feet wide.

Other popular Water Lily varieties include: 

  • Alba
  • Mrs. George H. Pring
  • Rembrandt
  • Marliacea Carnea
  • Arc en Ciel
  • Afterglow
  • Cape Blue Water
  • Pygmaea Rubra
  • Carolina Sunset
  • Midnight Water
  • Pygmaea Helvola
  • Chromatella 
  • Emily Grant Hutchings
  • Luciana
  • Antares
  • George L. Thomas
  • Giant Amazon
  • Helvola

What Does a Water Lily Tattoo Mean?

Many people like to choose tattoos that have meaning. A water lily tattoo can have various implications, making it a versatile piece of body ink that you can use on any part of the body. 

You can use water lily tattoos to represent personality traits like being at peace with yourself or having patience. Other symbolisms include innocence, elegance, and a love for being healthy – externally and internally. 

A water lily tattoo can also be a way to illustrate your spiritual journey and the wishes you have for your life and future. 

When Should You Give Someone a Water Lily?

You can gift water lilies to another person for multiple occasions, from births to weddings. They can symbolize mourning or death or express congratulations.


Water lilies come in a huge variety, with over 50 individual species growing worldwide. You can get these graceful blooms in multiple colors and sizes, grown outdoors or inside your home. Symbolic for rebirth, beauty, balance, and peace, water lilies are a great gift for all occasions. But various cultures and colors also have specific meanings.