American White Water-lily

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

Common Names and Latin Name

American white waterlily, fragrant water-lily, beaver root, fragrant white water lily, white water lily, sweet-scented white water lily, and sweet-scented water lily.

Nymphaea odorata


Nymphaeaceae or water-lily family.  Spatterdock is the only other water-lily in this family.   


American white water-lily is an aquatic, perennial, plant that grows in ponds and lakes.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) on a lake
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)


The leaves float on the water surface.   The upper leaf surface is green and the lower is burgundy with raised veins.

The leaves are large and round with a notch cut almost to the center of the leaf. Leaves are generally about ten inches in diameter and float on the surface of the water. They are not water repellant like lotus leaves are.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) underside of the leaves
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) showing the underside of the leaves


The flowers appear in spring, summer and fall.  Flowers are three inches across and are very fragrant.

The flowers open in the morning and close during the heat of the day. Flowers appear in the spring, summer and fall.

There is one flower per stem and once it is pollinated the stem will coil up causing the flower to sink below the surface of the water.  After several weeks the seeds mature and the pod opens up to disperse its seeds.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)


American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) is commonly found in shallow ponds, lakes, ditches, swamps, and slow moving streams throughout the state.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

Native Range

American white water-lily is native to the following states: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, and WV.

Our beautiful white water lily is found throughout the Eastern united States, Canada, parts of Mexico and Central America.

Landscape Use

Large whiskey barrel planters can be used to grow this aquatic plant if you don’t have access to a pond in your green space. They generally do not grow in streams, or areas of moving water, and prefer still waters without a lot of disturbance.  It generally grows in a depth of six to eight feet.

It grows in zones 4 – 8.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

Wildlife Uses

The seeds are eaten by water birds such as ducks and the purple gallinule.

In northern parts of Florida beaver eat various parts of water lily plants from leaves to tubers to flower buds. Muskrat also use it as a food source throughout the state.

The flowers are a nectar and pollen source for beetles, flies, and bees.  The foliage and flowers are used as cover for fish, frogs, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.

Human Uses

The flower buds can be cooked as a vegetable or pickled. The young leaves can be cooked and used in stews and soups. The ripe seed can be cooked whole or ground into a starchy meal / flour.  The stems can be chopped and cooked as a potherb. 

As with any aquatic plant that grows alongside snails it is best to use caution and only eat well cooked parts because of a parasite called the rat lung worm.  Rat lung worm is spread by snails and slugs so it’s best to not use this plant raw.


Propagation is achieved through germinating seeds or transplanting existing plants.  The seeds require at least 90 days of cold stratification.

American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)
American White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) seed pods with seeds
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