An expert’s choice of the best tropical water lilies
text and photography by PERRY D. SLOCUM
A MOST BASIC DISTINCTION CAN BE MADE between tropical water lilies, those native to tropical or semi-tropical climates, and hardy water lilies, which are native to cooler climates. The blooms of all hardy water lilies open during the daytime, whereas tropical species and cultivars can be distinguished as day blooming or night blooming. The tropical flowers of night bloomers in the subgenus Hydrocallis bloom in the middle of the night for a short time (only two hours in some species). Flowers of the night bloomers in the subgenus Lotos open around dusk and stay open to nearly noon on the following day. On cloudy or cool days these blooms may stay open all day. Typically Lotos flowers are large and showy.
Tropical water lily blooms are usually raised several inches above the water. Last-day flowers usually float. So-called star lilies, whose parentage includes Nymphaea flavorvirens (syn. N. gracilis) or N. capensis var. zanzibariensis, are day bloomers that may raise their flowers 12 inches or more above water. Hardy water lilies generally raise their blooms only slightly above the water or allow them to float. The hardy exceptions include the cultivars N.