Lotus vs Water Lily: 5 Key Differences

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If you are confused by these two gorgeous aquatic plants, it is not a surprise because they are similar enough that they are often considered the same plant.

The confusion is not characteristic only for amateurs.

For example, Talay Bua Daeng in Thailand, traditionally called Red Lotos See, despite its name, does not have a single lotus and features pink water lilies. If you want to clean up the dilemma and learn once and for all how to distinguish them, just keep reading!

Water Lily vs Lotus

The main difference between water lilies and lotus is leaf structure, flower size, and cultural significance. Water lilies have floating leaves and large fragrant blooms, while lotus have leaves rising above water and showy cup-shaped flowers.

In addition to belonging to different plant families and having different origins, the primary, visible difference between these plants is that the leaves and flowers of the water lily float on the water surface.

The lotus leaves and flowers, on the other hand, rise above the water surface.

Unfortunately, there is an exception here. Namely, water lilies of tropical origin can also stand above the water surface. This adds to the confusion, however, don’t worry, it is not the only difference.

These plants differ in the color and shape of the leaves, the size, and the color of the flowers.

1. Origin and plant families

Water lilies belong to the family Nimphaaceae which includes about 60 plant species, classified into two basic types: hardy water lilies native to North America and tropical water lilies native to the Amazon region.

On the other hand, the lotus, the national flower of India and Vietnam, has only two species and belongs to the Nelumbonaceae family. It grows over a wider area of ​​central and northern India through northern Indochina, East Asia, and Australia.

2. Flowers

Water lily flowers are generally smaller but have thin, towards the end trapped petals.

They come in various colors, including white, cream, pink,  purple, reddish, and blue. The flowers usually last three to four days and have a pleasant scent often used in various perfumes’ compositions.

Lotus flowers are bigger, usually up to 12 inches in diameter, with wider, at the end blunt petals. They last shorter, usually two days, and have a less intense but pleasant fruity scent. The flowers open in the morning and turn to the sun before folding in the evening.

The famous cup-shaped flowers come only in shades of pink, cream, and white. So, if you see the surface of the lake adorned with flowers that are some other than the colors listed, then it is Water Lilly.

Water lily

3. Leaves

The lotus has regular, monochromatic green, round leaves 18 to 36 inches in diameter.

They grow in 3 levels: underwater closer to the root leaves floating on the water and leaves rising above the water. The leaf surface is velvety and rough, so drops of dew or rain on them stay and shimmer in the sun.

Water Lily has waxy green leaves that do not hold water. They are seldom monochromatic and more often interspersed with dark purple spots. And sometimes could be completely purple. The water lily has big circular leaves notched to the center. Typically, they can grow between 1-2 feet in diameter.

4. Rootball

The lotus has a tuberous, thickened root that spreads in all directions.

Although it can also be grown as a classic hydroculture without soil, when planted in a pot or, pond the plant’s root needs a bed of at least a 4-inch thick layer of clay or loam dirt.

The water lily has a similar root. But it is rhizomatous. And it spreads horizontally with new stems emerging from the buds that are visible at the root. So, when planting a water lily, a thick layer of soil is not necessary. Plants with this root spread faster and become invasive easily.

5. Edibility

Unlike the water lily, which generally is not edible, the lotus has been known for 7,000 years as a plant used in diet and medicine in Asia.

All parts of the plant are edible. You can consume the seeds raw or cooked, add the young leaves to a salad, and mix the root in your soups or chips.


Water lily vs Lotus: Maintaining at home


The lotus is a perennial and, with proper care, can beautify your garden pond for years.

Despite its exotic appearance, it is a hardy plant that thrives in the USA climate zone 5 and above. It means they and overwinter in water without problems as long as the pond bottom is not frozen.

Water lilies are perennials too, but only the hardy water lilies can be grown in pound out the USA climate zone 9 and more. Those of tropical origin, out of subtropical areas, behave like annuals, which means that they will die at the end of the season.

It may sound disheartening, but tropical water lilies also have their advantages. They have more vibrant colors and a more abundant bloom. Although they are most often daily bloomers, certain species open their flowers a few hours before dark and stay open until noon the next days. This almost mystical night show is characteristic only of tropical water lilies.

Pot or pound?

The lotus is a plant that can thrive in shallow water and therefore is more suitable for growing in bowls.

On the market, you can find dwarf lotus varieties that are successfully grown in smaller pots with a diameter of 20 inches.

Generally, water lilies prefer deeper water and are therefore more often grown in ponds than in pots. If you want to grow them in the container, it should be a large one, at least a few feet deep, such as a wine barrel. This plant also has its lovely dwarf varieties, but their cultivation still requires a deeper and larger pot than the cultivation of lotus.

Which plant grows faster, louts or water lily?

The lotus grows more slowly and emerges slowly from the dormant phase, which it enters as soon as the day shortens and the temperature drops. It needs much more sun and a higher water temperature to start new growth and flowering cycle.

It is not uncommon for the water lily to already bloom when, in the same circumstances, the lotus is just developing its leaves.

Mike Smith

I love Gardening and this is my site. Here you will find some really useful plant-related tips and tricks.