Water Lily Flowers and Their Symbolic Meaning

In this guide, we will explain everything you need to know about the Water Lily flower’s 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.

Water Lily Flowers

Key Takeaways

Named after the Greek nymph, the Water Lily symbolizes 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.

Etymological Meaning

The genus name originates from the Greek word “νυμφαία” (nymphaia) and the Latin “nymphaea,” both of which translate to “water lily.”

This naming was inspired by the nymphs found in Greek and Latin mythology. 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.

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 Greece, as demonstrated by the Latin name Nymphaeaceae.

Ancient Egyptian Symbol of Unity

The ancient Egyptians were fascinated by water lilies and other aquatic flowers, which they depicted in many artworks. They believed the flower was sacred to the goddess Isis and symbolized creation and rebirth.

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. 

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

Water Lily Flowers in Buddhism

A pink water lily on the surface of water

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.

Common Water Lily Flower Colors and Their Meaning

A pink water lily inbetween green lily pads

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

  • White: Purity, innocence, grief.
  • Pink: Joy, youth, friendship.
  • Red: Passion, wealth, romance.
  • Yellow: Energy, good health, new starts.
  • Blue: Calm, wisdom, recovery.
  • Green: Growth, money, family.
  • Orange: Power, fun, success.


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.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

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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