Jerry Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist
Texas Cooperative Extension

Water is an essential element, without which life cannot be long sustained. Civilization's first settlements sprang up around rivers due to irrigation and transportation needs. Soon various aquatic and bog plants were recognized as a source of food and shelter. Certain aquatic plants also provided food, such as rice, which is the most important crop species in the world.

Water gardens thus had their beginnings in the fabric of both human history and the processes of Mother Nature. Water plants create conditions suitable for pests and diseases affecting humans, domestic animals, and crop plants. Some water plants were even singled out as having religious significance. In the Orient, particularly in China from around 2700 B.C., nelumbos especially had religious connotations and were esteemed for their medicinal properties. Later, nelumbos spread to Egypt. Widespread though reverence for the lotus has been, most of our knowledge concerning the early uses of water plants has come from ancient Egypt, where nymphaeas, nelumbos, and papyruses in particular are widely represented on tomb wall paintings, found as dried blossoms in sarcophagi, and reproduced as decorative elements on pillars and columns in architecture. The use of flowers for social purposes was tremendously important to the ancient Egyptians. Following the anointing ceremony at a nobleman's reception, servants presented each guest with a lotus flower that was then either held in the hand or attached to the head before visitors entered the reception rooms. At some period in their history, Indian poets have likened many parts of the human body to the Nelumbo. To the Chinese it typified female beauty, while the Japanese considered the plant an emblem of purity since the splendid flowers grew unsullied by the muddy waters of its habitat. As civilizations grew and segregated into classes of the wealthy and the workers, those who could afford to began to have homes built away from the farming areas but wanted to bring with them the beauties of these areas. These gardens, though at first for food and medicinal herbs, soon became elaborate display areas. Eventually the upper classes and royalty built gardens to bring the whole realm of the world to their front door. Gardens like Versailles in France soon stood for the opulence of the elite. This opulence is still a much sought pleasure, but today anyone with the determination and a little money can have a water garden in his or her own backyard. Thanks to modern plastics, the back breaking, time consuming, labor and skill intensive processes of building a beautiful water garden have been reduced to a weekend job with only a minimum of easily learned skills.In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a flurry of Nymphaea species were sent to Europe from around the world, heightening interest in waterlilies and ponds. News of the successful cultivation and flowering of Victoria by Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth in England in 1849 spread far and wide.This set the stage for the first waterlily hybrids to be made. The first generally accepted as a true hybrid was N. 'Ortgiesiano-rubra' by Eduard Ortgies at the Van Houtte nurseries in Belgium and the second was N. 'Boucheana' by Carl Bouché in Germany. Both of these were night blooming tropicals, created in 1852. William T. Baxter at Oxford Botanic Garden in England introduced a hybrid day blooming tropical, N. 'Daubenyana', possibly as early as 1851, named for Dr. Charles Daubeny.Though much of the cultivation and study of aquatic plants was going on in England, Belgium and Germany, it was the Frenchman Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac who, at the turn of the twentieth century, created hardy waterlily hybrids that set the standard for all who followed. Another Frenchman, Antoine Lagrange, created wonderful tropical hybrids but almost all of them are lost to cultivation.Interest in ponds and waterlilies spread to America where E. Sturtevant, William Tricker and James Gurney led the way, and Henry S. Conard published his landmark monograph, The Waterlilies, in 1905. George Pring soon made Missouri Botanical Garden the aquatic Mecca of the United States. In the 1930's Martin E. Randig and Otto Beldt introduced their first waterlilies.Our contemporary legends of hybridizing and collecting of aquatic plants are hybridizers Bill Frase, Perry Slocum (deceased) , Johan Harder, Clyde Ikins (deceased), Kirk Strawn, and Ken Landon.
There are many plants available for use in water gardens. One should have a clear plan as to how many plants, including water-lilies, are expected to be used in the water garden and how they are to be arranged before actually purchasing the plants. A simple sketch showing water-lilies as the feature plant group is really all that is necessary. Supplemental species such as those to be placed along water margins should also be included. There are certain considerations to be taken into account. Most considerations, such as water depth, amount of sunlight, and how each species relates to its surroundings should have been considered during the design phase. Floating leafed and submerged plants are necessary for a healthy pond and must be included in your selection. The following is a partial list of two main categories of watergarden(1) Floating leafed plants Usually water lilies. Plant enough to cover 50 to 75 percent of the surface area of the pond, or approximately one for every 10 square feet of surface area (there are dwarf varieties for barrel gardens). Floating leafed plants will cover the surface of the water to a point that will, if done correctly, limit the amount of light reaching the depths of the pond holding algae growth in check. Thus, Lotus (Nelumbo spp.), which hold their leaves above the surface of the pond, do not contribute to this maintenance tool and are considered under Bog or Marginal Plants. Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) are of two types, tropical and hardy. Tropical water lilies in turn are divided into day and night bloomers. Hardy water lilies are all day bloomers. Some hardy water lily flowers change color shades over the life of the bloom, adding to the character of these unique plants termed "Changeables." The following are the best-of-the-best of the waterlilies chosen by the leading growers and hybridizers in Texas. They are available at most watergarden suppliers.

2006 Texas SuperStar
Water Garden Plants
(Nymphaea spp.)

Hardy Yellow
N. Texas Dawn
by Ken Landon (1985)

Rich yellow flowers with outer petals blushed pink, greenish yellow with pink border sepal, deep yellow anther. Flower size is 6” - 8” with a lemony fragrance. Green top leaves speckled purple with purple undersides. Leaves are 8” with a 3’ - 5’ spread.Comments1:
‘Texas Dawn’ is probably one of the best yellow-flowered water lilies since N. ‘Chromatella’ made its appearance in 1887. This plant received the International Water Lily Society’s 1990 American Award. It can be expected to produce seven to eight blooms at a time by mid-summer. In late summer and fall the flowers may take on an attractive pinkish cast.


Hardy Salmon
N. Colorado by Kirk Strawn (1994)
Outer petals soft pink shading to light peach on innermost petals. Flowers are 3” - 4” across with 26 - 28 petals and a pleasant fragrance. Light blushed pink inner sepals with dark green tips. Inner anthers are medium yellow with outer anthers soft pink and yellow. Medium green top leaves with newer leaves more olive with faint mottling with
reddish plum undersides. Leaf size is 5” - 7” with a spread of 3’ - 5’.

Hardy Red N. Laydekeri Fulgens
by Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac (1895)
Flowers are vivid burgundy-red. Flower size is 5 - 6 inches with 20 petals and a slight fragrance. Sepal color is pale pink with white tips.
Leaves are green on top with new leaves purplish green and dark purple blotches with purple undersides. Leaf size is 8.5” with a spread of 4 - 5 feet.


Hardy White
N. Perry’s Double White
by Perry Slocum (1990)
Flowers are pure white with sepals white tipped in green with prominent dark gray veins and yellow anther. Flower size is 6” - 7” with 39 - 46 petals but no fragrance. Leaf color is deep green on top and underside. New leaves are slightly bronzed. Leaf size is 8” with a spread of 4’ - 5’.

Hardy Apricot
N. Clyde Ikins
by Kirk Strawn (Year unknown)
Flowers are creamy yellow with a hint of pink, shading to light yellow apricot at inner petals. Anther color is bright yellow with sepal color a creamy white interior with faint pink on edges and dark green pin stripes. Flower size is four to six inches with 32 - 34 petals and a strong fragrance.
Leaves are medium green on top while newer leaves are more olive with a hint of mottling. Underside of leaves are reddish brown with green veins. Leaf size is 6” - 8” with a spread of 6’ - 8’.

Tropical Purple
N. Panama Pacific
by William Tricker (1914)
Deep violet-purple flower, purple sepal, yellow anther with violet tips. Flower size is 4.5” - 6” with 21 - 22 petals and a very sweet fragrance. Green top leaves, purple undersides, new leaves turn green then red, all heavily mottled purple. Leaf size is 9” - 11” with a spread of 4’ - 6’.Tropical Blue


N. Star of Siam
by Chaiyaphon Thamasuwan (Year unknown)


Tropical Night Bloomer
N. Red Flare
by Martin Randig (1938
Flowers are deep red with deep red sepals and reddish brown anthers. Flowers size is 7” - 10” with 19 - 20 petals and a faint but pungent fragrance. Leaves are reddish bronze on top with purple undersides. Leaf size is 10” - 12” with a spread of 5’ - 6’.
Bog or Marginal PlantsThough most are not grown for their flowers, some bog plants offer help for those unable to site their pond in sufficient sunlight for the majority of water lilies. Some plants can tolerate as little as three hours of direct sunlight. Some grow best in constantly moist to soggy soils, while others actually grow in standing water. There are many different species of bog plants with varying heights, textures and colors to their foliage. Plants for the bog garden or for margins of the pond add height and drama to the water feature; lotus, sagittaria, and dwarf bamboo add unique foliage, where iris, cattails, and sweet flag have unmatched upright linear texture.In their natural environments, shallow water and bog plants grow at the water's edge. This group of plants include irises, cannas, papyruses, pickerel plants, water poppies and parrot feather. The Texas SuperStar Bog plant choice is:

Bog Plant
Parrot’s Feather
Free growing plant that grows to 20” - 60” long with leaves 1” - 2”. Soft leaves curl closed in the evenings. Also classified by some as an oxygenating plant.
Can be easily controlled by splitting off ends and repotting

So if you want to beautify your landscape with a watergarden, “dive’ in. Some of the best information about “how to” can be found at:

1: WATER GARDENING Water Lilies and Lotuses by Perry D. Slocum and Peter Robinson with Frances Perry (1996 by Timber Press)
2: Waterlilies and Lotuses by Perry D. Slocum (2005 by Timber Press)3: Pond Basics by Peter Robinson (2000 by Sterling Publishing Company)
4: Ken Landon
5: Rich Sacher
6: Duane Eaton


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