Everything You Need to Know About the Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Water Lily Flowers

In this guide, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about Water Lily flower meaning and symbolism. From classical artwork to tattoos, Water Lilies are used symbolically nearly as often as for landscaping. Requiring a relatively shallow pond to thrive, these flowers are often confused for the sacred lotus that thrives in wet environments. Let the beauty of the Water Lily rise up along with its symbolic meaning to inspire you with its colorful and delicate petals.


Water Lily Flower Meaning and Symbolism – The Essentials

Named after the Greek nymph, the Water Lily is a symbol of beauty that can also have a dangerous side. It’s also a symbol of unity and finding peace and balance. For Buddhists, it symbolizes rising up from the mundane world and into the spiritual one. Water lilies are also the official birth flower for July.


About Water Lily Flowers

About Water Lily Flowers

Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Rather than a single species, Water Lilies are an entire family known as Nymphaeaceae. Multiple genera within the family are popular as pond decorations, including Nymphaea.

Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances

Water Lilies can be quite distinct, but most share many common characteristics. 

First, they all grow from a rhizome that prefers to be buried in wet mud under the surface of the water. They also share complex flowers with many interlocking petals, creating the iconic Water Lily shape. 

Depending on the species, they can be found in almost every shade of the rainbow. Some varieties have a mild sweet fragrance.

History & Origins

The plants have been cultivated since Assyrian and Babylonian times, with the flowers spreading rapidly to Europe and North America during the 1800s and 1900s.

Popular Types, Species, and Cultivars

Nymphaea species are among the most popular for backyard pond growing, and they’re also commonly cultivated as cut flowers for bouquets. 

‘Attraction’ and ‘Pink Beauty’ are two of the most popular cultivars. Mexican Water Lily has become so widely planted that it’s considered invasive in some areas.

Etymological Meaning

As the Latin name suggests, it’s derived from the Greek myth of nymphs. These beautiful yet dangerous water spirits often drowned innocent people who visited the creeks or ponds they protected. 

Due to the beauty of the Water Lily but its habit of growing in thick mud, it’s an apt metaphor.

What Regions are These Flowers Native to?

Water Lilies are native to tropical and cooler regions worldwide, but they tend not to be found in extremely cold climates. Some are native to Australia, Europe, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, or North America. 

However, most popular species are spread widely and often confused for the native varieties of Water Lilies already found in the area.

When are Water Lily Flowers in Season?

Most species are summer blooming, producing flowers from May through September. However, a handful of species are autumn blooming instead. They can bloom all year round in warm climates.

Uses & Benefits of Water Lily Flowers

Unlike the similar-looking sacred lotus, most parts of the Water Lily are unsafe to eat. While they have been mentioned in folklore and literature as a food source from the past, they’re not considered safe to consume today. 

Some people take extracts from the plant’s roots as a treatment for diarrhea. Many Water Lilies specifically attract beetles to pollinate them, but scented varieties usually attract bees as well.


The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Water Lily Flowers

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Water Lily Flowers

Common Water Lily Flower Colors and Their Meaning

With Water Lilies available in almost every color, it’s easy to tailor the secondary meaning of a flower bouquet with careful selection.

The Greek Myth of the Nymph

In Ancient Greece, the nymph was a young woman who lived in a body of water. She was a spirit rather than a physical or mortal person. 

The nymph of a particular body of water might help out one person and hurt another, leading to drama in many of the myths involving them. 

The beauty of the Water Lily helped link it to the myth of the nymph of Ancient Greek, as demonstrated by the Latin name Nymphaeaceae.

Water Lily Flowers Were an Ancient Egyptian Symbol of Unity

Ancient Egypt was not a single empire for most of its history but rather two separate and interconnected kingdoms. 

The Egyptians cultivated many types of Water Lilies and used the complex blooms to represent the Upper and Lower parts of the empire connected. 

In particular, the Water Lily symbolized Upper Egypt and would be paired with a papyrus flower from Lower Egypt.

Water Lily Flowers in Buddhism

Water Lily Flowers in Buddhism

For Buddhists, Water Lilies are often grown to symbolize the spiritual process of striving towards enlightenment. 

The root of the Water Lily lies hidden in the mud, appearing to be trapped under the water. Yet as it extends a stem and lily pads that eventually host a beautiful flower, it transforms from a humble, hidden root into a breathtaking beauty. 

Buddhist meditation practices often feature the lily as a symbol for focusing on this purpose.

The National Flower of Bangladesh

The Water Lily is also the national flower of Bangladesh due to its widespread growth throughout the country. It’s considered a symbol of the country’s resilience and beauty.

July Birth Flowers

In the language of flowers, the water lily is also the official birth flower for July alongside larkspurs.

In the astrological world, the zodiac star sign Pisces is associated with water lilies because it is a water sign. The symbol of Pisces is two fish, while the water lily is known for its ability to grow on the water’s surface.


Wrap-up

Miniature Water Lily varieties can grow in just a few inches of water, making it easy to enjoy them in almost any garden or on a balcony. Try water gardening with meaning behind the blooms by trying your hand at Water Lily cultivation. Or just stick to enjoying them as cut flowers in bouquets, where their colorful petals and sweet scents are easy to appreciate.


Water Lily Flower Meaning and Symbolism FAQs:

What do Water Lily flowers symbolize? 

These flowers symbolize beauty, rising up from humble beginnings, achieving great things, and bringing separate things together.

Do Water Lily flowers come back every year? 

Water Lilies are perennial and return year after year as long as freezing temperatures or animals do not damage them in the winter.

What do Water Lily flowers smell like? 

Many species have no scent, but others have a rich fruity to spicy smell that can be quite pleasant when enjoyed in a bouquet or perfume.

What are Water Lily flowers used for? 

Water Lilies were once considered medicinal and edible, but that’s no longer recommended due to toxicity. They’re best limited to ornamental use in the pond or the bouquet.

What pollinators do Water Lily flowers attract? 

Many species attract beetles or flies that become trapped in the bottom of the flower. Others are appealing to a wider range of bees and butterflies as well.

Are Water Lily flowers poisonous to humans and animals? 

The flowers, roots, seeds, and pads are all mildly toxic if eaten. The consumption of a small amount once is only likely to cause a stomach ache, but repeated ingestion could lead to more severe problems.


Editorial Director | Full Bio | + posts

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

Author

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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