The Water Lily
The lovely white water lily,Nymphaea odorata, is a perennial aquatic plant which grows from a rhizome much the same way a spring flower grows from a bulb. The hardy water lily is native to North America. The thick glossy leaves which float on the water's surface can measure nearly a foot across, each with a slit that gives them a heart-shape appearance. The leaves form at the ends of thick, ropy stalks as do the individual flower buds. When fully bloomed, the blossoms are pure white perfection with golden stamens. They open each morning with the sun, attracting dragonflies, damselflies, and whirligig beetles which help to pollinate them. By late afternoon, the flowers will close up for a night of rest.
In Egyptian mythology, the blue water lily, erroneously called "Blue Lotus" is the symbol for Upper Egypt while the papyrus bloom, Cyperus papyrus, represents Lower Egypt. Intertwined, they represent Egyptian unification. The beautiful blue lily, Nymphae caerulea, is associated with the god Nefertum who is believed to have risen from the primordial waters of chaos within its perfumed bloom. The opening of its flower at dawn and its disappearance at dusk makes it a symbol of both the sun god, Ra and rebirth. Nefertum is depicted in Egyptian art with the lotus on his head. The lotus motif is often seen in murals, in architecture, and among items in the tombs of royalty. The lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, although related to the water lily, is a different species native to Asia and was introduced to the region by the Romans. Both the "Blue Lotus" and the "White Lotus" which blooms by moonlight, are water lilies native to Egypt. These varieties have larger leaves than those from North American, many reaching 20" across. The actual lotus bears blooms which stand quite tall, and, unlike the water lily, keeps all seed parts above water until the floating seed pod becomes woody. Similar in its bloom cycle, the lotus holds important symbolism for both the Buddhists and the Hindus. The opening of the flower bud signifies enlightenment, the perfect bloom represents purity, and the cycle of bloom is symbolic of resurrection and rebirth.
Frogs and water turtles find protection from predators among the masses of pads and stems, and are sometimes found basking atop the leaves. If one looks carefully, he may spot the patterned flanks of koi or the quick movement of a water snake in search of food.
Besides providing a beautiful display and shelter, lily pads block sunlight from the pond depths preventing algae bloom. This naturally protects fish from a lack of oxygen. Leaves also serve to convert the ammonia from fish waste into beneficial nutrients for the plants. In the fall as the leaves decompose, the detritus that results from the organic breakdown becomes a significant food source for aquatic invertebrates. This, in turn, provides sustenance for the amphibians, fish, waterfowl, and small mammals higher up in the food chain.
Water lilies which are at the peak of display during the summer months begin to yellow and decline in September and October as they prepare for dormancy. The rhizomes will store energy over the winter months for renewed growth in spring when the pond surfaces begin to warm again. Invasive by nature, water lilies are best submerged within solid containers to prevent spreading. It's always a good idea to check the invasive plant list for the state in which you live and take note of any warnings or restrictions.
After moonlit sleep
Upon a shadowy pond,
A pointed bud unfolds
On pads of glossy green.
From a slimy rope-like stem
In the murky darkness beneath
Emerges a bloom of the purest white.
Its radiance pleases the sun
Which her glowing beauty reflects.
Catherine Tally 2013
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© 2013 Catherine Tally