Nymphaea odorata is an aquatic, perennial herb with spreading, horizontal
rhizomes. Leaves are alternate and on long petioles that arise directly
from the rhizome. The leaf blades float, are orbicular in shape, deeply
cleft basally and often purple below. Leaf blades are palmately veined
and have pointed basal lobes. Flowers float on or just above the water
surface, are very showy, 6 to 20 cm broad, and are on long peduncles originating
in the axils of the leaves. The flowers have 4 greenish sepals and 17
to 40 white, or rarely pinkish, petals. Following final closing of the
flower, the flower stalk spirals, bringing the developing fruit to or
near the substrate. The fruit has many seeds.
Fragrant water-lily can be distinguished from the yellow water-lily by
its white, or rarely pinkish petals, and the absence of stolons. In contrast,
the yellow water-lily has yellow petals and produces stolons.
Fragrant water-lily grows in swamps, shallow ponds, lakes, ditches, and
slow moving stream. Nymphaea odorata can reproduce from rhizomes and by
seed (Tarver et al. 1986, Hanlon 1990) Once established, colonies spread
by rhizome branching and may colonize large areas of shallow water bodies.
After a few growing season the water surface may be covered by floating
leaves and shade out other plants. Tarver et al. (1986) report white water-lily
to grow at depths of 0.1 to 2.5 m deep. Nymphaea mexicana spreads by stolons
which produce numerous, descending, curved, fleshy, overwintering roots
resembling tiny bananas (Sutton 1984).
Dense growth of fragrant water-lily in shallow water areas sometimes
interferes with boating and recreation. It may also exclude reduce the
diversity of a water body by shading out other plant species (Tarver et
The genus Nymphaea L. consists of perhaps 40 or so species distributed
primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. Many species are prized as ornamentals
and have been introduced and become naturalized outside of their natural
range. Wiersema (1997) lists nine species of Nymphaea as occurring in
the Untied States. Seven of the nine species recognized by Wiersema (1997)
have somewhat restricted ranges.
The most common and widespread water-lily in the United States is N.
odorata Ait., fragrant water-lily or white water-lily. This species is
native and consists of two subspecies, N. odorata subsp. odorata and subsp.
tuberosa (Paine) Wiersema & Hellquist. The two subspecies are widespread
in the eastern, central, and mid western United States. Subspecies odorata
also has been introduced into several western and northwestern states
(Weirsema 1997). The pictures used in this system are those of N. odorata
subsp. odorata. Another native species of Nymphaea is the yellow water-lily,
N. mexicana Zucc., which is most common in Florida but ranges west to
Texas and Oklahoma and has been introduced in several other states (e.g.,
Arizona, California, North Carolina, South Carolina).