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Water Lily vs. Lotus: Learn Everything!

Many confuse Water Lilies with Lotuses because they both bloom on water and emerge from rhizomes, but despite their similarities, they are pretty different.

Generally, Water Lily floats on the water’s surface and boasts thicker, waxy flowers, while Lotus is rooted below water, and flowers display a thin, papery texture.

Though these aquatic plants are grown for flowers, they share several differences regarding growth and appearance. Let’s know them all!

1. Water Lily vs. Lotus (Based on Physical Appearance)

Lotus is a perennial aquatic plant belonging to a small family of Nelumbonaceae, containing only two species; Asian and American Lotus.

However, the Water Lily is part of the larger Nymphaeaceae (flowering plant) family with over 70 known species.

  • Plant Size: Water Lilies boast sizes of 3-6 inches tall and a diameter of 1- 18 inches. In contrast, Lotuses can cover a space ranging from 8 to 60 inches in height and 2-36 inches in width. 
  • Leaf Profile: Lilies have waxy, circular leaves boasting up to 8 inches across, while Lotus leaves can be as large as 31 inches in diameter.
  • Petal Habit: Lilies may boast anywhere from 8 to 27 or even 50 petals, whereas most Lotus measure 16-36 petals at most.
  • Flower Color: When it comes to color, the Water Lily is more vibrant with various shades of rainbow colors; pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, to even blue, but Lotus only come in white or pink, with a few in blue, purple, or yellow.
  • Flower Shape: Water Lily flowers are thicker and waxier with pointier ends, but Lotuses are thinner, papery, and rounded.
  • Flowering Period: Lily flowers will last 4-14 days before wilting, and Lotus will bloom once a year in high summer for hardly three days.
  • Plant Seeds: Talking about seeds, Water Lily seeds are about 1mm long, whereas Lotus seeds can be 1.2 to 15 inches long.
If you wish to grow ground Lilies, you may love to know 20 Peace Lily types with their names and pictures.

2. Water Lily vs. Lotus (Based on Meaning & Symbolism)

The Lotus flower has much richer significance connected to religions and sects in parts of the world where they are abundant, including Asia. 

Many Hindu religious artifacts and pictures show gods and goddesses sitting on 1000-petal Lotuses and holding Lotuses in their palms.

So, the Lotus flower equates to beauty, fertility, prosperity, and eternity in Hinduism.

You are also likely to find many Lotus symbols around Buddhist temples and monasteries.

In Bodhisattva (Buddhism), the white Lotus signifies Bodhi or awakening and denotes the state of cognitive purity.

In ancient Greece, Lotus symbols represent innocence and modesty, while Japanese culture uses Lotus to symbolize enlightenment and purity.

Did you know Native Americans regarded Lotus as a plant with mystical power?
buds of water lily and lotus
Lotus and Water Lily share a flowering quality in that blossoms are round and surround a radial notch.

In general, Water Lily symbolizes innocence, purity, fertility, rebirth, and celebration in many different cultures worldwide.

Water Lilies show resurrection in Hinduism for their ability to close at night and reopen at dawn.

In Christianity, Water Lily flowers are often used to represent the Virgin Mary and the Resurrection of Christ.

Also, Early Egyptians considered Water Lilies sacred and used them for various religious purposes.

In Buddhism, the White Lily denotes mental purity; purple denotes power, while red denotes love and romance.

3. Water Lily vs. Lotus (Based on Growing Requirement)

Although being aquatic species, Lotus and Water lilies may require different growing conditions and overall care.

Growing RequirementLotusWater Lily
USDA Zone5-10 4-11
Sunlight6 hours of direct sunlight4-6 hours of direct sunlight
Water Temperature75- 87˚F 70˚F for tropical species and 50˚F for hardy species
Muddy, swamps and shallow ponds or water

FertilizerFertilizer with NPK 10-10-10 or 5-10-10 once every three weeksFertilizer with NPK 9-23-20 once every 4-6 weeks or once a year
Plant/Water Surface Ratio 65% of the water surface area 50-75% of the water surface area
Water Depth18" or deeper water level for Taller species and 2-12" for dwarf Lotus4-18"
PruningCut the lotus down to a few inches above the rhizome at the end of the year.Water Lily should immediately be pruned once the blossom dies, usually in summer.

Wrapping Up

Both Lotuses and Water Lilies make perfect aquatic plants, with dwarf Lotuses readily available as indoor plants too!

 Though they are native to wide ponds or streams, you can also grow them in a container or basket.

If you want to populate these aquatic jewels, divide the mature plants. 

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