What is the Difference Between Water Lily and Lotus

The main difference between water lily and lotus is that water lily belongs to the family Nymphaeaceae, whereas lotus belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae. Furthermore, the leaves and flowers of water lily float on the water surface while the leaves and the flowers of lotus rise above the water’s surface. Although the leaves of the tropical water lily float on the water surface, its flowers rise above the surface of the water about 6-8 inches.  

Water lily and lotus are two types of aquatic flowering plants important in horticulture. Generally, they add a delicate but robust beauty and variety to backyard ponds.  

Key Areas Covered 

1. Water Lily
     – Definition, Characteristics, Importance
2. Lotus
     – Definition, Characteristics, Importance
3. What are the Similarities Between Water Lily and Lotus
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Water Lily and Lotus
     – Comparison of Key Differences  

Key Terms 

Aquatic Plants, Flower, Leaves, Lotus, Seed Production, Water Lily

Difference Between Water Lily and Lotus - Comparison Summary

Water Lily – Definition, Characteristics, Importance 

The water lily is a type of aquatic flowering plant of the family Nymphaeaceae, containing five genera and around 70 species. The main distinguishing feature of water lily is the floating of leaves and flowers on the water surface. The two main types of water lily are the hardy water lily and tropical water lily. Hardy water lily leaves are 8 to 12 inches long, and its flowers bloom 6 to 12 inches above. Also, the two types of hardy water lily are ‘Blue Aster’, a standard-sized water lily with light blue flowers and green and purple variegated foliage and ‘Helvola‘, a day flowering miniature water lily with light yellow flowers. 

Difference Between Water Lily and Lotus

Figure 1: Water Lily

Furthermore, tropical water lily contains leaves around 20 inches long. The main type of water lily is ‘Tropic Sunset’, which is a standard-sized day blooming tropical water lily, containing red and green variegated leaves and flowers with bright yellow stamens and bright pink pedals. Another distinguishing feature of water lily is its seed production. During the first day of blossom, the pollinating insects get attracted to the flower with the help of sweet nectar. Then, the following two days, the flower produces pollen and at the end of the third day, the flower stem contracts and coils, pulling the flower into the water where the seeds mature within the ovary.  

Lotus – Definition, Characteristics, Importance 

Lotus is a type of aquatic plant which belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae. One of the two extant species of lotus includes Nelumbo nucifera, which is also known as Indian lotussacred lotusbean of IndiaEgyptian bean or simply lotus. The second species is Nelumbo lutea. The leaves and flowers of lotus raise above the level of water. Moreover, a lotus flower is much larger than a water lily. Their leaves are 18-36 inches long and can be up to 8 feet tall. Also, the lotus leaf is peltate, and the leaf stalk is attached to the center underneath. Therefore, there is no slot for the drainage of water from the rain. Instead, the leaf is hydrophobic, beading up and rolling the raindrops around the leaf, eventually pulling it out with the help of the wind. 

Main Difference - Water Lily vs Lotus

Figure 2: Lotus

Moreover, lotus flowers are much larger and grow up to 12 inches in diameter. It carries a large number of tepals. Also, lotus flower contains a large, cone-shaped, floral receptacle at the center of the flower. Lotus requires full sun to bloom while water lily can grow and bloom in both full sun and partial shade. Meanwhile, a common variety of lotus is ‘Bali Red’, which is a medium-sized lotus plant, reaching 3-4 feet out of the water and has beautiful flowers that range from pink to red.  

Similarities Between Water Lily and Lotus  

  • Water lily and lotus are two types of aquatic flowering plants important in horticulture.  
  • They grow in freshwater.  
  • They have tuberous roots, long stems, fairly circular leaves.  
  • Also,  the petals of their flowers are numerous, large, rose or white-colored.  
  • Insects pollinate their flowers, and as a result, they produce seeds.  
  • They are celebrated for their beauty and immortalized in art and religion.    
  • Usually,  they are easy to grow and reward gardeners with fragrant and sumptuous blossoms from June until October.   

Difference Between Water Lily and Lotus 


Water lily refers to an ornamental aquatic plant with large, round, floating leaves and large, typically cup-shaped, floating flowers while lotus refers to any aquatic plant of the genus Nelumbo of the water lily family, having shieldlike leaves and showy, solitary flowers projecting above the water. 


Water lily belongs to the family Nymphaeaceae while lotus belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae. 


Moreover, the water lily is native to North America while lotus has a wide native distribution from central and northern India through northern Indochina and East Asia. 


While water lily grows in muddy waters such as ponds and shallow streams while lotus grows in shallow ponds and swamps. 

Plant Hardiness Zone 

Tropical water lily grows in USDA zones 10 and 11 only while lotus grows in USDA zones 5 through 10. 

The Level of Leaves and Flowers 

The leaves and flowers of water lily float on the water surface while the leaves and the flowers of the lotus are emergent, or rise above the water’s surface.  


Furthermore, the water lily is short, while lotus is much larger.  

Leaf Structure 

The leaf of water lily has a distinctive cut while the leaf of the lotus is a complete circle. 

Leaf Color 

Also, the leaves of water lily are mostly variegated, having green leaves mottled with a dark purple or are completely dark purple, while the leaves of lotus are not variegated. 


While the leaves of water lily contain a waxy cuticle, the leaves of a lotus contain trichomes.  

Petal Shape 

Petals of water lily are comparatively small, thin and tapered towards the end, while the petals of the lotus are large, wider, and blunt at the end. 


The petals of water lily are much thicker while the petals of the lotus are comparatively thin. 

Number of Petals 

Water lily generally contains many petals while lotus contains comparatively a lower number of petals. 

Petal Color 

The petal color of water lily is white or rose while the petal color of the lotus is white or pink. 

Androecial Ring 

Moreover, water lily lacks an androecial ring while lotus contains an androecial ring, which is a distinguishable feature. 


Water lily contains 3 to numerous, distinct or connate carpels while lotus contains a barrel-shaped carpel that is embedded in an expanded receptacle. 

Blossom to Seed 

Water lily blooms above the water level and the maturation of seeds occurs inside the water. In contrast, the complete cycle of blossom to the seed of lotus occurs above the water. 


In brief, the water lily is a type of freshwater, flowering plant of the family Nymphaeaceae. The main distinguishing feature of water lily is the floating of both leaves as well as flowers on the water surface.  The petals of the flower are thicker, thinner, and tapered towards the end. Meantime, the lotus is another type of freshwater flowering plant of the family NelumbonaceaeIts leaves and flowers rise above the water surface. Also, the petals of the lotus flower are thinner and larger with blunt ends. Therefore, the main difference between water lily and lotus is the level of leaves and flowers. 


1. “Lotus Vs. Water Lilies, What’s The Difference?” Container Water Gardens, 14 July 2018, Available Here.
2. Iannotti, Marie. “Troubleshooting Water Garden Plants.” The Spruce, The Spruce, 25 Nov. 2019, Available Here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Water Lily in Thailand” By Trisorn Triboon – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia   
2. “Nelumbo nucifera1romainguy” By Romain Guy from Lyon, France – Lotus flower (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Common Wikimedia  

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

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