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Nymphaea odorata (American white water-lily)
Marcus, Joseph A.

Nymphaea odorata

Nymphaea odorata Aiton

American White Water-lily, Fragrant White Water-lily, Fragrant Water-lily, White Water-lily, Sweet-scented White Water-lily, Sweet-scented Water-lily, Beaver Root

Nymphaeaceae (Water-Lily Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (I), PR (N), CAN (N)

A floating aquatic plant with large, fragrant, white or pink flowers and flat, round, floating leaves. The leaves have long stems and are bright green above and reddish or purplish underneath, almost round. They are narrowly and deeply cut almost to the center, where the stem is attached. They are up to 10 inches across, floating on the surface of the water or just beneath. There is 1 flower to a stem, white, fragrant, 2-6 inches across, and floating on the water. Flowers open in the early morning and close about noon. There are 4 sepals and many rows of white petals, often more than 25, which are 3/4-4 inches long, thick, and pointed at the tip. There are more than 70 stamens. The outer ones are large and petal-like; they become smaller toward the center.

One of the most common white water-lilies, Fragrant Water-lily's flowers and leaves float on the water. It usually flowers only from early morning until noon. The stomata, tiny openings on the leaf surface through which carbon dioxide and other gases pass into the plant, are on the upper, shiny leaf surface rather than on the lower surface as is the case for most dry-land plants. The leaf stalk, which is soft and spongy, has 4 main air channels for the movement of gases, especially oxygen, from the leaves to the large stems (rhizomes) buried in the muck, which are frequently eaten by muskrats. The Small White Water-lily (N. tetragona), has white flowers 2 1/2" (6.3 cm) wide with only 713 petals, that open in the afternoon. Native to the northeastern United States, it is found in Canada, south to northwest Maine, and west to northern Michigan and Minnesota and a few places in Washington and Idaho.


From the Image Gallery

114 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Leaves and flowers float on the surface of the water.
Fruit: Green.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct


USA: AK , AL , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV
Canada: BC , MB , NB , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Nf. to s. Man, s. to FL & TX; naturalized westward
Native Habitat: In ponds, lakes, slow streams, and ditches in southeast Texas. Sand, loam, clay, mud.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet
Aquatic: yes
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Any pond bottom, Shallow water.
Conditions Comments: One of the most common white water-lilies, Fragrant Water-lily's flowers and leaves float on the water. It usually flowers only from early morning until noon. The fragrant, white flowers of this rhizomatous, aquatic perennial are 3-6 in. across when open, but they close at night or on very cloudy days.


Use Ornamental: Aromatic, Bog or pond area, Water garden
Use Wildlife: Waterfowl and mammals eat the buoyant seeds and other parts of the plant.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds


Propagation Material: Root Division
Description: Increase by rhizome division. Barely cover the rhizomes with soil and place within 6-8 in. of the water surface until several new leaves have appeared; at that time move to deeper water.
Seed Collection: The flower stalk contracts after flowering and a globe-shaped fruit with many seeds matures under water.
Commercially Avail: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1995 VOL. 12, NO.2 - Wildflower Center Opens April 8th through 9th, Grand Opening Schedule of Events,...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Nymphaea odorata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Nymphaea odorata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Nymphaea odorata


Record Modified: 2023-02-21
Research By: TWC Staff, WFS

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