Water lilies are aquatic plants frequently found along the edges of ponds, lakes, and streams. They have distinctive large rounded leaves or lily pads and flowers that can be white, yellow, or pink. In addition to proliferating in the wild, these plants are also grown in personal pleasure gardens and small water pools all over the world. The broad flowers typically have many almond-shaped petals, although no fewer than six, along with six stamens.
There are over 70 species in the Nymphaeaceae family, which includes water lilies, and they are found widely distributed on many parts of the planet. The plants are also ancient, and appear in numerous examples of art from antiquity, suggesting that they were prized for their beauty thousands of years ago just as they are today.
There are three basic types of water lily: night, tropical, and hardy. As the name would suggest, night lilies bloom only at night, and close up when the sun rises. Tropical lilies are adapted to tropical environments, and some can grow leaves that are large enough to support the weight of a human being. Hardy lilies will grow in almost any environment and are commonly found in North America and Europe.
The roots of water lilies are embedded in the mud, well below the water line. The mud keeps the roots anchored and provides a source of nutrition, while richly oxygenated water seeps into the roots. The long, trailing stems also collect oxygen from the water they grow in, and the big leaves absorb sunlight for energy. Most reproduce by budding new tubers, which will densely concentrate the plants in one area of a waterway unless the tubers are distributed by animals or the current.
Water lilies are also religious symbols in many traditions, including ancient Egyptian polytheism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. They are commonly associated with enlightenment and resurrection, as many species close up and appear to die at night, reviving in the morning with the sunlight.
In Egyptian art, many royal representatives were depicted holding sacred lotuses, members of the water lily family, and the gods were also associated with these plants. In Buddhism, the lotus is an important symbol of enlightenment because it illustrates beauty rising through mud and water to bloom. Because many species tightly furl their blossoms at night and reopen in the morning, the lotus is also a symbol of opening to the light.