White water-lily (Nymphaea alba)

GenusNymphaea (1)
SizeLeaf length: 10-30 cm (2)
Flower diameter: 10-20 cm (2)

Common and widespread (3).

The white water-lily produces Britain's largest flower (4). This plant roots in the mud at the bottom of the lake (5), the circular floating leaves are dark green on the upper surface, and reddish below (2). The flowers also float; the petals are white, often with a pinkish tinge, and the stamens are bright yellow (2). The seeds, which are produced in large quantities, are smooth and olive-green in colour (2).

The native range of this attractive species is not clear, as it has been widely collected and transplanted (3). It is found throughout most of lowland Britain, but is absent from Orkney (2). Outside of the British Isles, it is found in Europe as far north as Scandinavia, but is absent from Iceland and the Faeroe Islands (2).

Found in a range of aquatic habitats, including ponds, large ditches, mires and the backwaters of rivers (3).

White water-lily flowers are produced between June and September (6); they are visited by bees, flies and beetles, but it seems that they are often self-pollinated(2). There is much variation in the size of both the leaves and the flowers; certain populations in nutrient-poor waters are much smaller than average (2). These differences seem to have some genetic basis, as even when moved to nutrient-rich waters the plants stay small for a number of years (2).

This species is not currently threatened, but is likely to be vulnerable to disturbance by boat traffic as it lacks submerged leaves (3).

Conservation action has not been targeted at this common and widespread species.

For more information on British plants and their conservation see Plantlife- the wild plant conservation charity:
Visit the website of the Botanical Society of the British Isles at:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. & Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.D. (2002) The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. BBC Nature. (Feb 2003): http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/plants/fun/record_breakers.shtml
  5. Flora of Northern Ireland (Feb 2003): http://www.habitas.org.uk/flora/info.htm
  6. Press, B. & Gibbons, B (1993) Photographic field guide to wild flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd, London.