American white waterlily

(Nymphaea odorata ssp. tuberosa)

Conservation Status
American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

OBL - Obligate wetland


OBL - Obligate wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

OBL - Obligate wetland


American white waterlily is a floating, perennial aquatic that rises up to 7 from a frequently branched, creeping rhizome and fibrous roots. The rhizome is often constricted at the branch nodes, forming detachable tubers. It often forms colonies.

The leaves are all alternate and rise directly from the rhizome on a long stalk (petiole). The petiole is stout and green with brownish-purple stripes. It is round in cross section, not flattened. The leaf floats on the surface of the water, though in the spring it is submersed. The petiole is attached to the center of the underside of the blade. The blade is thick, leathery, egg-shaped to almost circular, 4 to 16 long, and 4 to 16 wide. At the base of the blade there is a very narrow slit from the margin to the petiole. There are 6 to 27 principal veins radiating from the center to the margin. There is no central web of veins between the principal veins. The upper surface is hairless and green. The lower surface is hairless and green, sometimes faintly tinged with purple. The margins are untoothed and sometimes strongly wavy.

The inflorescence is a single flower floating on the water surface, at the end of a long stalk arising directly from the rhizome. The flower stalk resembles the leaf stalk.

The flowers are 2 to 6 in diameter when open. There are 4 sepals that rest on the surface of the water. They are egg-shaped to egg lance-shaped, 1 to 3 long, and to 1 wide. The outer side, visible when the flower is closed, is green. The inner side, visible when the flower is open, is greenish-white. There are 17 to 43 white, rarely pink, petals. They are elliptic to inversely lance-shaped, to 1¼ long, and to wide. The outermost petals have a broadly rounded tip and are arranged in a whorl of 4. The remaining petals are arranged in a spiral. There are 35 to 120 yellow stamens with yellow anthers. The filaments of the outer stamens are winged and are wider than the anthers. Those of the inner stamens are narrower than the anthers. The flower opens in the early morning and closes around noon. It lasts 3 or 4 days.

The fruit is gobe-shaped. It matures underwater.




Up to 7


Flower Color




Similar Species


Fragrant waterlily (Nymphaea odorata ssp. odorata) rhizomes are not constricted at the nodes. The petioles are uniformly green or reddish-purple, not striped. The lower leaf surface is dark reddish-purple, occasionally greenish.

American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) leaves and flowers stand up to 12 above the water. The leaves are larger, up to 24 in diameter, and are not split. The flowers are pale yellow and somewhat larger.


Water less than 7 deep




July to September


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Nymphaeanae  


Nymphaeales (waterlilies, fanworts, and allies)  


Nymphaeaceae (waterlily)  
  Genus Nymphaea (water-lilies)  
  Subgenus Nymphaea  
  Section Nymphaea  
  Species Nymphaea odorata (American white waterlily)  



Castalia tuberosa

Nymphaea odorata var. maxima

Nymphaea tuberosa


Common Names


American white water lily

American white water-lily

American white waterlily

fragrant water lily

tuberous water-lily

white water lily














The small swelling of the stem from which one or more leaves, branches, or buds originate.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.

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Wayne Rasmussen

    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)      


    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)   American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  


    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)   American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  
    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)   American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  


    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)   American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  


    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)   American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  
    American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)      






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  Wayne Rasmussen

Location: Joy Park & Preserve in Maplewood, MN

American white waterlily (ssp. tuberosa)  






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