Nymphaea Alba - the white water lilly found in Ireland.

Irish Wild Water Lilies

Wildlife and Fauna


There are only two species of native wild water lily in Ireland, though occasionally one of the many cultivated varieties manages to escape and establish itself in the wild. The two are the white water lily, Nymphaea alba, and the yellow water lily, Nuphar lutea - sometimes also called the brandy bottle. The flowers of the white water lily are white, often with a pink tinge, with yellow stamens and they float on the surface of the water. They open in the morning and close again in the late afternoon. In the late summer the flower stem retracts and the seed capsule ripens under water, before bursting to distribute the seeds. The leaves, or lily pads, are rounder than in the other species. In the late autumn the plant dies back and over-winters as a large root or rhizome in the bed of the lake, river or canal.

White water lilies are commoner in the west of Ireland than in the east and prefer slightly more acid water. However, both species are occasionally found growing together. One place where this happens is the western end of the Long Level on the Royal Canal. White water lilies are the ancestors of most cultivated varieties. The yellow water lily has more heart-shaped lily pads and its yellow flower is bowl-shaped and held on a stalk several centimetres above the water surface. The seed capsules ripen above water. It over-winters in a very large rhizome, similar to that of the white species. The name 'brandy bottle' probably comes from the bottle-shaped seed capsule but some people claim the flowers have an alcoholic scent.

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Water Lilies in Episode Three

In episode three of the series, The Rambler navigates masses of Water Lilies as it travels The Royal Canal.

Read more about episode three »