When I visited the Beaver Marsh at Cuyahoga Valley National Park a few weeks ago, two aquatic plants were abundant. The first was yellow pond-lily (Nuphar lutea, Nymphaeaceae) which I wrote about recently. The other was American white water-lily (Nymphaea odorata, Nymphaeaceae) which is shown here. Both are in the water-lily family and they share some characteristics. Both are rooted to the mucky bottom via long rhizomes, and both exhibit similar morphology. They are however in separate genera and there are some notable differences between them.
Yellow pond-lilies have somewhat oblong leaves that usually rise above the water’s surface on thick round stems. In contrast the large round leaves of American white water-lily float on the surface, creating the typical “lily pads” associated with frogs.
The flowers are also quite different. Yellow pond-lily flowers are relatively closed, bulbous, have few petals and stamens, and are elevated above the water on stalks. American white water-lily flowers open widely each day and feature many more petals and stamens. They also sit on the water’s surface like the leaves.
Finally, as the species name N. odorata suggests, American white water-lily is quite fragrant. Since they’re usually surrounded by water, however, it can be challenging to get close enough to sniff them.