1. Nymphaeaceae Salisb.

    1. This family is accepted.


Aona, L.Y.S. & Zappi, D.C. (2009). Neotropical Nymphaeaceae.


Perennial , rarely annual aquatic herbs with rhizomes. Leaves simple , alternate , floating, emergent or submersed, petiole long; leaf- blade rounded , cordate to peltate , sometimes spiny underneath. Flowers on the water surface (above only in Nuphar Sm.), solitary, with a long pedicel attached to the rhizome , sepals and petals intergrading, sepals 4-6(-12), free to adnate to the ovary , petals 6-70, spiralled or the outer ones 4- verticillate , rarely absent, frequently with a gradual transition to stamens or staminodes, stamens 14-700, spirally arranged, anthers with 2 thecae, introrse, longitudinally dehiscent , ovary superior to inferior, carpels 3-50, totally or partially fused, stigmas sessile , equalling the number of carpels; ovules many, placentation laminar. Fruit a leathery berry or an irregularly dehiscent capsule ; few to numerous seeds ovoid to globose , sometimes arillate, testa glabrous to hairy, embryo small, endosperm scant, perisperm abundant, cotyledons 2.

Distribution in the Neotropics
  • Nuphar (c. 11, north temperate, North America, Europe, and Asia), of which Nupharlutea Sibth. & Sm. is cultivated in the Neotropics.
  • Nymphaea L. (15 - 20 species in the Neotropics). 
  • Victoria Lindl. (2 - 3 species, Tropical America, mainly in the Amazon region). 
Other important characters
  • Flowers showy, relatively large.
  • Stigmas sessile.
Key differences from similar families

Nymphaeaceae are closely related to the Cabombaceae, sharing with them:

  • The rhizomatous stem.
  • Involute, peltate leaves with palmate secondary veins that are actinodromous, festoon brochidodromous, margin toothed or entire.
  • Flowers are single along the stem.

However, Nymphaeaceae has relatively large, showy flowers with 4-6(-12) sepals and 6(-70) petals, while Cabombaceae have considerably fewer perianth parts and the flowers are less conspicuous.

Useful tips for generic identification

Nymphaeaceae is subdivided into 2 subfamilies:

  • Nupharoideae, with stout, creeping rhizomes, roots with 10-18 xylem poles, pith large; fruit emergent (Nuphar ); chromosome n = 17.
  • Nymphaeoideae, roots with 5-9 xylem poles, pith small, if any; fruit maturation underwater; chromosome n = 10, 12, 14-18 (Nymphaea , Victoria ).
Notable genera and distinguishing features

Nuphar: distinguished by its rounded petals and emergent fruit. Nymphaea: water lilies with acute petals, leaves without thorns. Victoria: this genus has acute, very numerous petals, thorns or spines in the outside side of its leaves, petioles, peduncles and outer sepals, the leaf margin is distinctly folded upwards. 

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Nymphaeaceae are the best known waterlilies with:

  • Large flowers and usually many freeperianth parts and stamens disposed spirally.
  • Many ovules in each carpel, the placentation usually being clearly laminar (Stevens 2008).
  • The stems are not free floating, as the plants are essentially rooted, and the leaves are disposed in rosettes attached to the rhizome.
  • The root endodermis has a Casparian strip.
General Description
Number of genera

Three Neotropical genera: Nuphar, Nymphaea and Victoria.

  • Nympheaceae is a predominantly Temperate family, although Victoria amazonica Sowerby and V. cruziana Orbign. are found in the Amazon river.
  • Many species are used in horticulture.
  • Nuphar is introduced (cultivated).
General notes
  • Nymphaeaceae are often pollinated by beetles, and sometimes their flowers open at night
  • Protogyny has been studied in Victoria amazonica (Prance 1975, 1980).
Notes on delimitation
  • Nymphaeaceae is in the order Nymphaeales together with Cabombaceae and Hydatellaceae.
  • Saarela et al. (2007) suggest a few additional possible synapomorphies for Nymphaeales, such as hydrolysable tannins in this group (e.g. in Nuphar) being different to those found elsewhere (Gottlieb et al. 1993; Ishimatsu et al. 1989), although Hydatellaceae are still very poorly known.
Important literature

Feres, F. & Amral, M.C.E. 2003. Nyphaeaceae. In Wanderley, M. G. L., Shepherd, G. J. & Giulietti, A. M. (Eds.). Flora Fanerogâmica do Estado de São Paulo. Vol. 3. São Carlos, Editora RiMA. pp: 241-245.

Gottlieb, O., R., Kaplan, M. A. C., & Kubitzki, K. 1993. A suggested role of galloyl esters in the evolution of dicotyledons. Taxon 42: 539-552.

Ishimatsu, M., Tanaka, T., Nonaka, G., Nishioka, I., Nishizawa, M., & Yamagishi, T. 1989. Tannins and related compounds. LXXIX. Isolation and characterisation of novel dimeric and trimeric hydrolyzable tannins, nuphrins C, D, E and F, from Nuphar japonicum DC. Chem. Pharmac. Bull. 37: 1735-1743.

Prance, G.T. & Arius, J.R. 1975. A study of the floral biology of Victoria amazonica (Poepp.) Sowerby (Nymphaeaceae). Acta Amazonica 5 (2): 109-139. 1975.

Prance, G.T. 1980. A note on the pollination of Nymphaea amazonum Mart. & Zucc. (Nymphaeaceae). Brittonia 32(4): 505 - 507.

Saarela, J. M., Rai, H. S., Doyle, J. A., Endress, P. K., Mathews, S., Marchant, A. D., Briggs, B., & Graham, S. W. 2007. Hydatellaceae identified as a new branch near the base of the angiosperm phylogenetic tree. Nature 446: 312-315.

Stevens, P. F. (2001 onwards). Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 9, June 2008 [and more or less continuously updated since]. http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/.


Nymphaeaceae, F. A. Mendoça. Flora Zambesiaca 1:1. 1960

Aquatic rhizomatous herbs rooted in the ground
Leaves petiolate, exstipulate, floating, emergent or rarely submerged, usually ± peltate, vernation involute
Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic, solitary, large and handsome, pedunculate, floating, emergent or rarely submerged
Sepals 4–6
Petals (6–10) numerous, some occasionally ± sepaloid
Stamens numerous, hypo- or perigynous; anthers introrse, dehiscing by longitudinal slits
Carpels (6–10) numerous, immersed in the torus; ovules 1 or numerous in each carpel, pendulous from the walls or apex of the carpel; styles free
Fruit fleshy or spongy
Seeds with fleshy arils

Nymphaeaceae, Hutchinson and Dalziel. Flora of West Tropical Africa 1:1. 1954

Aquatic herbs with peltate or cordate leaves arising from a submerged prostrate rhizome
Flowers solitary, large and showy, often sweet-scented
Sepals 4–6, free or adherent to the receptacle
Petals numerous, imbricate, sometimes gradually passing into stamens
Anthers introrse, often flattened or petaloid, opening by a longitudinal slit
Receptacle large, fleshy, surrounding the ovary and with the petals and stamens inserted on its side
Ovules numerous, attached to the sides of the dissepiments Carpels 8 or more, free and immersed in the receptacle or more or less united into an ovary of as many cells, inferior or semi-inferior
Fruit many-celled, indehiscent, fleshy
Seeds often arillate; endosperm copious; embryo minute, with thick cotyledons
A small family found in both temperate and tropical regions of both hemispheres

Nymphaeaceae, B. Verdcourt. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1989

Aquatic rhizomatous herbs rooted in the bottom mud
Leaves mostly floating, emergent or sometimes submerged, petiolate (petioles often very long), usually ± peltate and with involute vernation; stipules present or absent
Flowers regular, hermaphrodite, solitary, usually large and showy, often scented, mostly long-pedunculate, floating, emergent or rarely submerged
Sepals 4–6, free or adnate to the torus
Petals 6–10 or numerous or even absent, hypogynous or perigynous, imbricate, sometimes gradually passing into the stamens
Stamens numerous; anthers opening by longitudinal slits, introrse or latrorse, the connective often produced
Carpels (6–10–)numerous, immersed in the torus or united into a 3–5- or many-locular ovary; ovules 1–numerous per carpel, pendulous from the walls or apex; styles free, short, or stigmas radiating, sessile on central boss of ovary and also sometimes with marginal stylar processes
Fruit fleshy or spongy
Seeds often with fleshy arils and usually with endosperm and/or perisperm (absent in Nelumbo)


Nymphaeaceae Salisb. appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Ann. Bot. [König & Sims]. 2: 70. 1805 [Jun 1805] (1805)

Accepted by

  • APG IV (2016) http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/boj.12385


Flora Zambesiaca
Flora Zambesiaca

Flora of Tropical East Africa
Flora of Tropical East Africa

Flora of West Tropical Africa
Flora of West Tropical Africa

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2019. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Milliken, W., Klitgard, B. and Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.