Yellow Water Lily

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Wildflowers, Plants and Ferns, Pacific Northwest

Yellow Water Lily, BC Coastal Region
Yellow Water Lily, Photo By Bud Logan

The Yellow Water lily is part of the lily family and grows as an aquatic perennial. Very thick rhizomes just beneath the soft mud surface of lake and pond bottoms push up the lilies and flowers. Thick roots extend for great distances through the ooze looking for nutrients. The tough outer surface of the rhizomes is marked by large scars left behind by leaves and stems of previous years.

Leaf stalks rise to the surface from the growing end of the rhizome with large round to heart shaped leaves that float upon the water at the ends of the stalks. These dark green plates may reach 40 cm across and easily support the weight of small birds that run about looking under the leaves  for a meal. Late in the year, when lake levels are low, some of the leaves will stand out of the water.

Yellow Water Lily, BC Coastal Region
Yellow Water Lily, Photo By Bud Logan

Golden yellow blooms reach the water surface at the ends of fleshy flower stalks. Each flower bears a ring of small greenish sepals that surround six large bright yellow sepals that look just like petals. The true petals are much smaller, 10-20 of them mixed among the yellow to purplish stamens. Often you will find beetles hidden among the mass of stamens and petals. The stamens and petals form a fringe around the large swollen central knob-like pistil. The top of this knob consists of a flattened disk-like stigma with a scalloped margin. Flowers appear from summer to fall.

Yellow Water lily thrives throughout British Columbia and all of coast. It and its botanically close relatives range across Canada and much of the U.S. and throughout northern Europe and Asia. It is commonly found in the shallow water of lakes, ponds and slow rivers. On British Columbia’s coast almost every lake margin supports a zone of pond lily. It even thrives in small pools within coastal acid bogs. They bring such beauty to our Island lakes and ponds.

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