Nymphaea gigantea

giant water lily


Nymphaea gigantea

Hook 1852

pronounced: nim-FEE-uh-gy-GAN-tee-uh

(Nymphaeaceae — the water lily family)


common names: giant water lily, native water lily, blue water lily

native 4Nymphaea is from the ancient Greek name for a water-lily, νυμφαια (nymphaia). The Greek word may well have been inspired by νυμφη (nymphé), a nymph. The spring-nymphs (Naiads) were beautiful minor goddesses who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks. Gigantea is from the Latin giganteus, of or belonging to the giants, referring to the large size of both leaves and flowers.

This beautiful plant lives in the lagoons of the Horseshoe Bay wetlands; but it often has a tough time there, due to the heavy infestation of Giant Salvinia water-weed.

Despite their name, water lilies are not related to the true lilies, which are in the family Liliaceae. Likewise, Nymphaea (Egyptian lotuses) are not related to the Chinese and Indian lotus of the genus Nelumbo, which are used in Asian cooking and are sacred to both Hinduism and Buddhism. However, the Nymphaea genus is closely related to Nuphar, another genus commonly called ‘lotus’. In Nymphaea, the flower petals are much larger than the sepals, whereas in Nuphar the petals are much smaller than the sepals. The fruit maturation also differs, with Nymphaea fruit sinking below the water level immediately after the flower closes, whereas Nuphur fruit are held above water level to mature.

The tubers of Nymphaea gigantea grow in the mud at the bottom of lagoons and quiet waters. The leaves are large (20 – 60 cm in diameter), with prominent veins, dentate margins and cordate base. There is a radial notch from the circumference to the petiole in the centre of the leaf. The leaves float on the surface of the water.

The flowers can be anything up to 25 cm in diameter when fully open, and extend above the water on long peduncles, up to 50 cm. There are 4 sepals, green with a bluish tinge on the margins. The petals are usually lilac-blue when young, gradually fading to light blue, almost white, and there are numerous stamens. The seeds are red, maturing to grey, having a protuberance near the hilum, and rows of white hairs.

The ancient Egyptians revered the Nile water-lilies, and the lotus motif is a frequent feature of temple column architecture. The blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) symbol is found among other ancient Egyptian symbols on pottery from the 18th Dynasty (c.1550 – c.1290 BC). The blue lotus opens its flowers in the morning and then sinks beneath the water at dusk, while the white lotus (Nymphaea lotus) flowers at night and closes in the morning. This symbolizes the Egyptian separation of deities, and is also a motif associated with their beliefs about death and the afterlife. The blue lotus has recently been found to have psychedelic properties; this may well have been known to the Egyptians, and might explain its ceremonial use. Remains of the flowers of both of these species were found in the tomb of Ramesses II.

Almost every part of the plant is edible. The tubers are eaten after roasting; the leaf and flower stalks are peeled and eaten raw. The seeds can be ground to make a flour.


Photographs taken Horseshoe Bay lagoon, 2013
Page last updated 11th February 2019