Hello everyone! Today, let’s dive into comparing two beautiful and well-loved plants: the Water Lily and the Lotus.
The main difference between Water Lilies and Lotuses lies in their growth habits and leaf characteristics. Water Lilies (Nymphaea species) have leaves and flowers that float on the water’s surface, with their roots anchored in soil underwater. In contrast, Lotuses (Nelumbo species) have leaves and flowers that rise above the water, often standing several inches to a few feet tall.
Additionally, Lotus leaves are round with a notable central stem, whereas Water Lily leaves are typically round without a prominent stem. The flowers also differ; Lotus flowers are large and symmetrical with a distinctive seed pod at their center, while Water Lily flowers vary more in shape and rarely have a noticeable seed pod.
|USDA Hardiness zone
|North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia
|North and Central America, Asia
|2-8” (5-20 cm) above the water surface
|4-6′ (1.2-1.8 m) above the water surface
|3-5′ (0.9-1.5 m) The width of giant water lilies is unknown.
|5′ (1.5 m)
|0,5-1′ across (15-30 cm), fragrant
|1′ (30 cm) across, fragrant
|1-10′ across (0.3-3 m), green, round
|2.5′ across (0.8 m), green, round
Lotus flowers stand tall above the water, whereas water lily blooms float on the surface. The height of lotus flowers varies with the type and variety; typically, they reach 4-6 feet high in natural ponds and 2-3 feet in artificial, plastic ponds.
Another key difference is in the flower centers. Water lilies have a common floral center with pistils and stamens, while lotuses feature a unique androecial ring in the middle, adding to their decorative appeal.
Generally, water lily flowers are a bit smaller than lotus flowers, which can grow up to 1 foot in diameter.
Both plants boast fragrant flowers, each with a slightly different but equally delightful scent. Moreover, lotuses and water lilies come in a wide range of colors, offering a diverse palette for any water garden.
Initially, I mentioned that lotus leaves rise above the water, but that’s a simplification. Actually, the lotus has three types of leaves.
First, there are submerged leaves, which grow just below the water’s surface. Next, like water lilies, lotuses also have floating leaves. The third type consists of leaves that rise above the water on sturdy, yet flexible stems. In natural settings, these leaf stems can stretch over five feet.
In contrast, water lilies only have one leaf type, which floats on the water’s surface.
Regarding the foliage of both, most water lily leaves feature a cut from the edge to the center, allowing surface water to drain back into the pond.
Lotus leaves don’t have this cut. Instead of being flat like water lily leaves, they have a central depression that collects water.
Both plants have round, plate-like leaves. Some water lily varieties have smaller leaves, usually under 12 inches in diameter, while others average about 20 inches wide.
Lotus leaves are generally larger, often exceeding 30 inches in diameter.
Species and Varieties
The lotus belongs to the genus Nelumbo, comprising just two species: Nelumbo nucifera, known as the sacred lotus, and Nelumbo lutea, the American lotus.
On the other hand, the water lily, scientifically called Nymphaea, encompasses around 70 different species. This indicates a much broader species diversity compared to the lotus.
It’s common to see water lilies mistakenly referred to as lotuses. For example, Nymphaea lotus is often called the Egyptian white lotus, and Nymphaea caerulea is known as the Blue Egyptian lotus.
Despite having fewer species, the lotus boasts a remarkable variety, thanks to global breeding efforts. These efforts have led to the creation of numerous stunning lotus varieties.
Lotus varieties typically feature broad petals in colors ranging from white and pink to light yellow and red. A particularly unique variety is Nelumbo ‘Thousand Petals’ (also known as Qianban Lian), celebrated for its abundant pink petals that resemble double peonies.
Water lily has its own surprises, like the Nymphaea ‘Blue Aster’, characterized by narrow, sharply-tipped petals in a striking blue with a yellow center – a color combination not found in lotuses.
Another distinctive water lily variety is Nymphaea ‘Wanvisa’, which exhibits a mix of yellow and red hues, often split halfway between the two colors. This bicolor effect is yet to be seen in lotus varieties.
Habitat and Hardiness
The habitat of the lotus is relatively limited. Nelumbo nucifera, the sacred lotus, is native to various parts of Asia and isn’t found naturally elsewhere. Nelumbo lutea, the American lotus, primarily grows in North America, with occasional appearances in Central America.
In contrast, water lilies boast a much broader geographical distribution. These plants are found globally, with different species native to various regions. In the United States and Canada, local species are common. Nymphaea alba is widespread across Europe, while Nymphaea caerulea originates from Africa, Madagascar, and parts of Asia. Nymphaea amazonum is native to the tropical forests of South America.
Thanks to its numerous species, the water lily has adapted to a wide range of habitats, influencing its hardiness. Various species can thrive in USDA hardiness zones ranging from 4 in colder northern regions to 11 in the southern areas. However, tropical water lilies are best suited to zones 9-11.
Lotuses, on the other hand, are generally recommended for growth up to USDA hardiness zone 5, making them less accessible to some enthusiasts of such plants.
Nymphaea (water lilies) and Nelumbo (lotuses) are similar in width, with each plant typically spanning about five feet.
However, their heights differ. The submerged portions of both plants reach 2 to 3 feet tall. Above water, the lotus stands taller, between 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters), while the water lily’s above-water height varies from 2 inches to about 8 inches (5-20 centimeters).
This implies that lotuses require a stronger root system to support their larger mass and to withstand wind and rain.
To grow a lotus successfully, a larger pot and more soil are necessary, along with more frequent feeding compared to a water lily. For maximum leaf and flower size, cultivating a lotus in a large pond with a natural bottom is ideal, providing ample space for root development.
Water lily vs Lotus seeds
Both lotus and water lily flowers have a lifespan of about 3-4 days. Post-pollination, their petals wilt, leading to the seed maturation process. This process marks a significant distinction between the two plants.
For the lotus, seed maturation follows a pattern common to many flowers. Post-bloom, the flower transforms into a seed pod, which matures above water. Once ripe, the seeds fall into the water, where they can be dispersed by water currents or animals.
The water lily’s process is quite different. After flowering, it forms a seed pod that submerges to a shallow depth under the water. Upon reaching maturity, the pod opens, and the seeds are released to float away.
A unique feature of lotus seeds is their exceptionally long viability; there are records of lotus seeds germinating after over a thousand years.
The seeds of both plants are highly valued in culinary applications. They are known for their nutritional richness and are used in various forms, such as fried, boiled, ground, or even as snacks.
Water lily vs Lotus Symbolism
Throughout history, the water lily has carried various symbolic meanings.
In modern times, the water lily is a national symbol or features on the coats of arms of several Asian countries, reflecting its revered status and positive associations in these cultures.
In Europe’s past, the water lily also appeared on some national coats of arms, reflecting a positive symbolism, particularly in an era when religious sentiment was more pronounced than it is today.
However, the water lily’s symbolism hasn’t always been positive. In ancient India, for instance, it was viewed as a symbol of sadness and separation, among other negative connotations.
The lotus, in contrast, has consistently been seen as a symbol of divine grace, holding a special place in ancient Asian cultures.
In Buddhism, the lotus is often depicted as a throne for deities, and images of the Buddha frequently include lotus motifs, underscoring its status as a sacred plant.
Additionally, the remarkable longevity of lotus seeds, capable of germinating after many years, is seen in many cultures as a symbol of enduring life and eternal existence.