The white water lily is a special plant that has special requirements. Yet it gives, too.

The lily, a native plant, needs quiet waters, not too deep, and a silty bottom to live in certain lakes, ponds and streams. The rootstock has only a few rootlets, and it lies buried in the muck as an anchor. Rising from the rootstocks are leaf and flower stalks. These and the foot-wide leaves have channels that trap air to keep the plant afloat.

The outside sepals and petals of the flowers are canoe-shaped, and each help float the magnolia-like flowers that open for three or four sunny days and are closed at night and on cloudy days. After the blooming period, the flower stem coils in a spiral and takes the ripening seeds below the surface of the water. Several weeks later the pod bursts and releases the seeds into the water.

The white water lily provides food for its insect pollinators and other animals, plus shelter and growing places for countless organisms, microscopic to fish size. Frogs and smaller turtles can be seen resting and sunning on the floating leaves. Moose make water lily pads a principle item in their diet. Beavers roll the big leaves up and devour them like we might a rolled-up strawberry jelly-covered pancake. Muskrats and even porcupines dine on various parts of the plant. Waterfowl such as canvasbacks, redheads, wood and ring-necked ducks feed on the seeds.


Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.