Nymphaea odorata (American White Water-lily)

Plant Info
Also known as: Fragrant White Water-lily
Family:Nymphaeaceae (Water-lily)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; ponds, slow moving water in mucky soil
Bloom season:June - September
Plant height:to 8 feet deep
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flower] Single flower 3 to 6 inches across floating on still and slow moving waters. Flowers have 20 to 30 white petals and many yellow stamens, with a whorl of 4 green to purplish sepals at the base. They are fragrant, close at night and open in the morning.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves mostly float on the water as well, are round with a deep slit at the base, 4 to 12 inches in diameter, toothless, on long stems. The upper surface is green and somewhat glossy and often purplish on the underside. The stems are all green or striped brown/purple depending on the subspecies, and smooth or short-hairy. When water levels are low the leaves may rise above the water and become a bit wavy around the edges.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

Fruit is round and berry-like, containing oval seeds 1/8 to nearly ¼ inch long.


American White Water-lily can form dense colonies, sometimes completely covering the surface of the water with leaves. The two subspecies, Nymphaea odorata var. odorata and var. tuberosa (formerly Nymphaea tuberosa), are not easily distinguished, especially viewing from above the plants. According to Flora of North America, an intermediate species exists around the Great Lakes region, including Minnesota, where the line is blurred. When the distinction is obvious, var. tuberosa leaves are more often green or slightly purplish on the underside and stems are striped; var. odorata leaves are typically purplish on the underside, stems are not striped, and flowers are much more fragrant.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Washington counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Washington County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Debb P - Dalton
on: 2018-05-01 10:58:26

I'd love to start some American White Water lilies off the shore at our cabin. We have a lot of chara though, so I'm wondering...if I pull out a section of weeds to plant the lily, do you think it would be ok, or would the weeds likely choke it out? Thanks for answering!

Posted by: KEVIN CONNOR - Britt
on: 2022-05-09 11:23:43

We have a new puppy, and I was looking up lily to see if our lily pads are poisonous. Water lilies don't appear to be, but when I look for MN lily pads, all I see are the small white water-lily (not what we have), American white water-lily (which we have in some palces on the lake), but nothing about the lily pads we have all over which have a yellow flower. Are they just a variant of the American white water-lily?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-05-09 12:14:29

Kevin, the yellow-flowered plants are referred to as "pond lilies" rather than water lilies. They are pretty common.

Posted by: Bob - SAINT LOUIS PARK
on: 2022-06-15 19:19:44

Hi, where can I buy a couple of nymphaea odorata for the pond in my back yard? I've called a few native nurseries in the area with no luck. Thanks. - Bob

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-06-16 17:50:33

Bob, Minnesota Wildflowers does not track who sells what, but in any case the native aquatics trade is probably going to be very limited.

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