Also known as European white water lily, white water rose, or white nenuphar, this aquatic flowering plant is native to North Africa, temperate and tropical Asia, and Europe where it grows in marshes, ponds, slow moving stream and lakes.  It is a member of the water lily family, Nymphaeaceaea, a small family that includes 3-6 genera.  Plants grow in water that is 12-59″ deep,  and produce rounded green leaves that are up to 12″ in diameter and float on the surface of the water.  The slightly fragrant flowers are  up to 8″ across,  have 12- 28 white petals with many small golden stamens, and are cup-shaped at first but become star-shaped with age. Photo Credit Wikimedia

The European white waterlily occurs in both the Holy Land and northern Africa and was probably known to the Israelites.  Although not as common as the Egyptian water lilies that served as  models for the ornamention Egyptian tombs and temples, the white waterlily (N. alba)  may have been the plant meant by the Hebrew word shushan and translated as lily. Alternative suggestions for the  plant are Nymphae caeruleae (blue lotus) and N. lotus (white/Egyptian lotus).

I Kings 7 ( NIV) The furnishings of Solomon’s temple are described.

19. “The capitals on top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies, four cubits high.”

22. “The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed.”

26.  “It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths.”

II Chronicles 4:5 (NIV) The huge washing basin in Solomon’s temple is described.

“It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held three thousand baths.”

White water lily  likes full sun and fertile loam in undisturbed water in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11.  Plants are susceptible to damage by brown China mark-moth, brown spot, crown rot,  false leaf-miner midge,  water lily aphid, water lily leaf spot,  and water lily beetle.  Propagation is by division of rhizomes or offsets in summer.  White water lily is a big plant and needs a big area in which to grow. Plants bloom all summer during the day adding both fragrance and beauty  so is a good choice for a water garden if plenty  of space is available.

The genus name, Nymphaea, comes from the Greek word numphaios and means sacred to the nymphs.  The specific epithet, alba, is the Latin word meaning white, and refers to the color of the flowers.


By Karen