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Santa Cruz water lily (Victoria cruziana)—(Top) Gottlieb Hampfler, (bottom) Elliot Levine/Shostal Associates
Any of the freshwater plants in eight genera that make up the family Nymphaeaceae, native to temperate and tropical regions. All are perennial except those in the genus Euryale. Most have rounded, floating, waxy-coated leaves growing atop long stalks that contain many air spaces. Thick, fleshy, creeping underwater stems are buried in the mud. In some species the leaves are also submerged. Showy, solitary, cuplike flowers with numerous spirally arranged petals are borne at or above the water surface on the long stalks. The genus Nymphaea includes the water lilies proper (or water nymphs). The common North American white water lily, pond lily, or toad lily is N. odorata. The lotus of ancient Egyptian art was usually the blue lotus (N. caerulea). The largest water lilies are two species that make up the tropical South American genus Victoria; the Santa Cruz water lily (V. cruziana) has leaves 2–6 ft (60–180 cm) in diameter. Water lilies provide food for fish and wildlife but sometimes cause drainage problems because of their rapid growth. Many varieties have been developed for ornamental use in garden pools and conservatories.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on water lily, visit Britannica.com.