Lotus Vs Water Lily: 5 Key Differences

The lotus and the water lily are two beautiful flowers that often get confused. They are typically referred to as one and the same, but there are distinct differences between them.

It’s time to rise above this confusion and take a closer look at these two blooms.

Lotus Vs Water Lily: 5 Key Differences

What Are The 5 Differences Between A Lotus And A Water Lily? 

When it comes to the lotus and water lily, there are five key differences that stand out. 

  1. Appearance: Both flowers possess unique shapes and colors that set them apart from each other. 
  2. Growing Habits: Additionally, their growing habits differ significantly, with the lotus preferring warmer climates while water lilies prefer cooler temperatures.
  3. Water: Another difference between the flowers is that the leaves and flowers of the lily float on the water, whilst the lotus emerges above the surface of the water. 
  4. Root System: Their root systems differ, with the lotus possessing a longer root system while water lilies having much shorter roots. 
  5. Habitat: Finally, their habitats vary greatly as well; the lotus can grow in shallow waters or wetlands while water lilies typically stay close to the surface of deeper bodies of water such as lakes or ponds. 

Now, let’s take a look at the differences in more detail. 

Origin And Plant Families

Lotus and water lilies are both beautiful aquatic plants, but they come from different families. The lotus is part of the Nelumbonaceae family, while water lilies belong to the Nymphaeaceae family. 

Both plants have been around for centuries, but the lotus was originally found in eastern Asia. It’s been used in traditional medicine, religious ceremonies, and food across India, China, and Japan.

Water lilies, however, can be traced back to Europe and North America.

1. Appearance 

Though they share similar characteristics like colorful flowers that rise above the surface of a pond or lake, these two plants have distinct features that set them apart. 

The lotus has a long stem with leaves that float on top of the water; its flowers only open during the day and close at night.

On the other hand, a water lily’s leaves grow from an underwater stem and some varieties are nocturnal and stay open at night as well as the daytime. 

The two plants have also adapted differently to their environment; lotuses are able to survive in muddy ponds, while water lilies need cleaner waters with less sediment to thrive.

2. Flowers

Another difference between the two varieties of flower is their size and shape. The lotus has broad leaves that can range in size from two inches to four feet wide; its blooms can be as large as twelve inches across when fully open. 

Water lilies tend to be much smaller, with leaves no larger than twelve inches in diameter and blooms up to six inches wide at full maturity.

In addition, whereas the lotus has a single stem that supports each leaf and bloom, a water lily’s stem branches off into multiple stems for each leaf and bloom it produces.

3. Color 

Another distinction between these two types of flowers lies in their coloration: lotuses typically come in shades of pink or white, whereas water lilies have more colorful options such as yellow or blue for their blossoms.

4. Leaves

Although both plants have floating leaves, the size, shape, and color of each varies.

As we’ve mentioned, the first key difference between lotus and water lily leaves is their size. Lotus leaves are much larger than water lilies, often growing up to 1 meter in diameter. 

Secondly, the shape of lotus and water lily leaves vary significantly. Water lily leaves are round and slightly wavy around the edges, while lotus leaves are more oval with wavy-toothed edges. 

Lotus leaves are typically a deep green or even purple-black, while water lily leaves tend to be a lighter green or even yellow when in full sun.

5. Root ball

The root ball of a lotus and a water lily differ in several ways. For starters, the root ball of a lotus is much larger than that of a water lily and tends to be bulbous and spread out further than those of a water lily. 

A lotus’ root ball can grow up to 1–2 feet deep, while a water lily’s root ball only grows about 6 inches (ca. 15 cm) deep.

In terms of their composition, the root balls of both plants contain oxygenated mud and sediment, but the mixture for the lotus is much thicker due to its large size.

In addition, the structure and shape of each plant’s root ball also differ significantly. The roots of a lotus are arranged in an intertwined pattern, while those of a water lily form concentric circles around its base.

Moreover, the surface area of each plant’s root ball differs as well—a lotus’ root ball has more ridges because it is larger, whereas that of a water lily tends to be smoother because it is smaller.

Lotus Vs Water Lily: 5 Key Differences

Growing Requirements

When it comes to growing requirements, there are some key differences between lotus and water lilies.

Water Temperatures 

The lotus requires water temperatures to remain between 65–85 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the roots to grow and flower properly. It can be grown in soil or in a container of shallow water, but it does require regular fertilizing.

On the other hand, water lilies need cooler temperatures of about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit; however, they don’t need fertilizing as much as lotuses do.


In addition, lotuses require full sun exposure of at least 8 hours per day, while water lilies prefer partial shade with only 4 hours of sunlight per day.

Moreover, because of their large root system and long leaves, lotuses are best suited for larger ponds or aquariums that have a minimum depth of 1 ½ feet.

In comparison, water lilies can be grown in small tubs and require only 6 inches (ca. 15 cm) of standing water.

Lotuses and water lilies both thrive when planted in soil enriched with aquatic plants fertilizer; however, if you are growing them in a container, it is important to change out the old water every 2 weeks.

Additionally, it is essential to keep their environment free from pollutants such as insecticides or herbicides, which could lead to plant death.

Overall, the growing requirements for lotuses and water lilies vary significantly, here’s a breakdown:

  • Lotuses require warmer temperatures than water lilies.
  • Lotuses need full sun exposure, while water lilies prefer partial shade.
  • Lotuses require at least 1 ½ feet of standing water, whereas small tubs are sufficient for growing Water Lilies.
  • Both plants require an aquatic plant fertilizer and clean, pollution free environment.

Water Lily Vs Lotus Symbolism

When it comes to symbolism, the lotus and water lily have been used in many ways throughout history.

For example, in ancient India the water lily was a symbol of sadness and separation, while in some European countries it was depicted on coats of arms as a sign of reverence.

The modern-day use of these flowers is quite different from their ancient counterparts, however.

Today the lotus is widely recognized as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, and rebirth due to its ability to constantly rise from the mud and grow again each new day.

The water lily on the other hand is seen as an emblem of beauty and serenity, with its graceful blooms floating atop still waters.

Both plants have become national symbols in many Asian countries too – for example, Japan’s imperial seal features both the lotus and water lily – further emphasizing their widespread positive symbolism across cultures.

So whether you’re looking for a meaningful addition to your garden or pond or just appreciate their beauty from afar, take time to consider the symbolic significance behind lotuses and water lilies!


The differences between lotus and water lilies are quite striking. Both of these plants have remarkable beauty, with the lotus being the national flower of India and the water lily symbolizing purity in many cultures. 

The contrast between the two plants is something to be celebrated for its uniqueness. Each one has its own set of characteristics and offers something special to our lives.

By understanding these key differences, we can better appreciate both plants for all that they offer us.

Diane Peirce

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