- The water lily's flowers arise on separate stalks from the leaves. They have brilliant white and sometimes pin -petals--25 to 30 per flower. The petals curve slightly upward and the center of the flower is bright yellow. Water lily flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon, while night-blooming flowers open at night and close in the morning. Just above the base of the stem are four green-white sepals--thicker petals-- that rest on the surface of the water. The flowers of the odorata species are extremely fragrant, while those of the less common tuberosa are less fragrant. Each bloom lasts three to four days and is quickly replaced by another.
- Water lily leaves are 4 to 12 inches in diameter. They develop directly from the rootstock on long petioles, or stalks. They are thick with a leathery texture, smooth along the outer edges, and the upper surface is covered with air pores that allow the leaves to breathe. The leaves are cleft toward the middle on one side.
- The water lily sprouts from a thick, fleshy rhizome. The water lily's rhizome is horizontal, creeping and branching and produces roots below and shoots above. The rhizome stores food for the flowers and leaves. According to the State of Washington's Department of Ecology, a rhizome planted in a water garden will cover a 15-foot diameter circle in five years.
- Water lilies prefer to root in mucky, silty sediment that is covered in still, relatively clear water, up to 8 feet deep with little exposure to the wind. They seem to prefer slightly acid water to alkaline water. Left unmanaged, the water lily can grow into dense stands covering hundreds of acres. While the water lily provides excellent cover for fish and frogs, too many water lily leaves on the surface can prevent wind from mixing with the water, leading to very low oxygen levels underwater.
- The water lily's abundant pollen attracts several species of pollinating insects, including bees, flies, beetles, thrips, pyramid moths, water-lily leaf cutters and water-lily beetles. In the Gulf states ducks use water lilies as a major food source, eating the roots and seeds. Turtles feed on the leaves, petioles and seeds and white-tailed deer occasionally feed on the foliage. Muskrat, beaver, nutria and other rodents will eat the leaves and rhizomes as well.