The aquatic water lily (Nymphaea odorata) produces large, fragrant white or pink blossoms. The large, dark green rounded leaves and flowers float on the waters surface. The plant grows from a rhizome-based root system that produces a very long stalk or leaf petioles so the leaves and flowers have the ability to float on the surface. The plant is widely grown in ornamental ponds, lakes and marshes.
The water lily is considered a perennial that forms large colonies. It is widely found growing wild across most of the eastern United States. The plant's foliage often measures 12 inches in diameter. The flowers average approximately 5 inches in diameter and are produced in abundance from June to September.
Water lilies provide numerous benefits to their aquatic environment. They offer shade that helps reduce the water temperature in the summer. The shade controls algae growth so the water stays clearer and cleaner. They provide protection to fish and other aquatic animals from predators such as birds.
Each winter the flowers and the foliage die off in the extreme cold, but the plants return when spring arrives. The entire pond or body of water can ice over during the winter, but the rhizomes continue to live in the soil. In temperate climates, the foliage never dies off but continues to grow and flourish all year. It will also occasionally bloom in subtropical and tropical areas during the winter.
Water lily flower colors are commonly white but numerous cultivars offer pink, salmon, yellow, purple, burgundy and orange flowers. The flowers open each morning when the sun rises and close up when the sun sets. Each flower lasts up to five days. When the flower finally dies, the plant pulls the flower stem downward under the water's surface. A few varieties never flower during the day and only produce blossoms each night.
Fleshy rhizomes spread the roots. They survive well in the mucky bottom of water bodies. The roots often grow 6 to 7 feet deep into the soil and spread 15 feet horizontally per plant. The roots prefer to take up residence in quiet water that offers no current such as lakes, ponds and marshes.
Water lilies make an excellent food source for beaver, moose, porcupines and waterfowl. Ducks often consume the seeds. Small invertebrates also make their home within the leaf petioles and rhizomes, according to Texas A&M University. The foliage is an excellent home for frogs.