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White Water Lily

Nymphaea alba

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Nymphaeaceae (Water Lily)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Gardens, parks, ponds, water, wetland.

White, many petals
White floating flowers only opening when sunny. Yellow stamens. The largest flower in the UK with approximately 20 petals. Up to 20cm wide.
The fruits are green, fairly round and warty.
The floating, broadly oval leaf reaches a maximum of about 30cm in diameter. The leaves of White Water Lily are slightly smaller than that of Yellow Water Lily.
Fragrant flowers.
Other Names:
Bobbins, Cambie Leaf, Can Dock, Common Water Lily, European White Lily, European White Water Lily, Flutterdock, Platter Dock, White Lotus, White Nenuphar, White Water Rose.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Nymphaea alba, commonly known as the white waterlily, European white water lily, or white nenuphar, is an aquatic flowering plant in the family Nymphaeaceae. It is a perennial plant, hardy to UK zone 5, and it blooms from July to August. The leaves are rounded and up to 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. It is used for ornamental and pharmaceutical purposes, as well as for its anxiolytic effects. It is also believed to have a protective effect against renal oxidative stress.


White Water-lily (Nymphaea alba) is a stunning aquatic plant that is commonly found in freshwater ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. It is known for its large, white, fragrant flowers that bloom in the summer and early fall, making it a popular ornamental plant in gardens and parks. In addition to its beauty, Nymphaea alba also has a rich cultural and medicinal history, making it a fascinating and important species to learn about.

The white water-lily is a perennial plant that can grow to be quite large, with leaves that can reach up to a meter in diameter. The leaves are circular, flat, and green with a slightly waxy texture that helps them float on the water's surface. The flowers are similarly large and have a sweet fragrance that can be enjoyed from a distance. The flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon, only to reopen the following day.

In ancient times, Nymphaea alba was considered a sacred plant by many cultures. In Egyptian mythology, the white water-lily was associated with the goddess Isis and was used in religious ceremonies and offerings. The ancient Greeks also considered the white water-lily to be a symbol of fertility and rebirth, and it was often depicted in art and literature.

In addition to its cultural significance, Nymphaea alba has also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The plant contains alkaloids, flavonoids, and other compounds that have been shown to have analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory effects. In traditional medicine, the root and rhizome of Nymphaea alba were used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, insomnia, and digestive problems.

Growing Nymphaea alba is relatively easy, as long as the plant is given the right conditions. The plant prefers still or slow-moving water and requires full sun to partial shade. It is best to plant the rhizome in a container and place it in the water, as the plant has a large root system that can become invasive if not properly managed.

Nymphaea alba is a beautiful and fascinating plant with a rich cultural and medicinal history. Whether you're looking to add a touch of beauty to your pond or are interested in learning more about the plant's historical significance, Nymphaea alba is definitely worth learning about.

Nymphaea alba is also known for its ability to purify water, making it a valuable addition to natural and man-made aquatic systems. The plant is able to absorb pollutants and excess nutrients from the water, helping to maintain the health of the ecosystem. Additionally, the plant provides habitat and food for a variety of aquatic animals, such as fish, insects, and birds, making it an important species for maintaining biodiversity.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological value, Nymphaea alba also has potential for use in horticulture and agriculture. The plant is grown for its ornamental value in water gardens, and its rhizomes and seeds can be used for human consumption. The rhizomes can be boiled, roasted, or ground into a flour, and the seeds can be used as a source of oil.

However, it is important to note that Nymphaea alba can become invasive if not properly managed. In some areas, the plant has spread and taken over native aquatic plants, disrupting the local ecosystem. Therefore, it is important to be cautious when planting Nymphaea alba and to monitor its growth to ensure that it does not become a problem.

Nymphaea alba is a valuable plant with a wide range of uses and benefits. Whether you're looking to add beauty to your water garden, purify your pond, or learn more about the cultural and medicinal significance of this fascinating species, Nymphaea alba is sure to captivate and inspire you.

In addition to its ornamental and ecological benefits, Nymphaea alba has also been studied for its potential as a bio-indicator. Bio-indicators are species that are used to monitor the health of an ecosystem based on their response to environmental stressors. Nymphaea alba is sensitive to changes in water quality, such as pH and temperature, and has been shown to be a useful bio-indicator for monitoring aquatic ecosystems.

Moreover, Nymphaea alba has been the subject of research for its potential as a source of natural compounds with pharmaceutical properties. The plant contains compounds such as nymphaeine, nymphalide, and nymphaeol, which have shown to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antiviral properties. There is ongoing research into the potential of these compounds for use in the development of new drugs, making Nymphaea alba an important species to study.

Another interesting aspect of Nymphaea alba is its association with the phenomenon known as bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is the production of light by living organisms, and Nymphaea alba is one of several species of aquatic plants that have been shown to exhibit bioluminescence. The exact function of this bioluminescence is still not well understood, but it is thought to serve as a defense mechanism against herbivores or as a way to attract pollinators.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the conservation status of Nymphaea alba. Although it is widely cultivated and widely distributed, the species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is due to habitat loss, over-collection for ornamental and medicinal purposes, and the introduction of invasive species. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and conserve this species, including the development of cultivation and propagation techniques to support sustainable use.

In conclusion, Nymphaea alba is a multi-faceted species with a wide range of benefits and uses. From its ornamental value, to its potential as a bio-indicator, to its association with bioluminescence, Nymphaea alba is a fascinating and important species to learn about.


White Water Lily filmed at Haigh Hall in Lancashire on the 29th August 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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