Native water lilies, like spatterdock (Nuphar polysepalum) and watershield (Brasenia schreberi), will also provide the same benefits as the fragrant water lily and are not invasive.


(also called yellow pond or cow lily) has a yellow "ball-shaped" flower and large elephant-ear-shaped leaves that often stick up above the surface of the water. 

Spatterdock, a useful native plant, is a rooted, floating-leaved plant with bright yellow flowers commonly seen in Washington lakes and ponds. Its scientific name is Nuphar polysepala, and it is also commonly called the yellow pond or cow lily. Spatterdock can sometimes be confused with the fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata), a similar looking exotic plant that has been introduced in many Washington lakes. However, if they are blooming they can be easily distinguished, for the fragrant water lily has showy white or sometimes pink many-petaled flowers.

In early spring the spatterdock's leaves are below the surface, light green in color, and look like lettuce growing on the lake bottom. But by late spring the broad, dark green, heart-shaped leaves float on the water's surface or often stand above the water as the summer progresses.

The floating leaves are connected by long stalks to large horizontal roots in the sediments. The roots can be up to six inches in diameter and many feet long! The roots look something like palm-tree trunks, with knobby scars where leaves have grown.

The bright yellow, ball-like flowers bloom from June to mid-August and also stand just above the water surface. They are composed of several broad fleshy yellow sepals, with many inconspicuous petals inside. In the center is a yellow flask-shaped seed pod. The flower emits a strong brandy-like odor which attracts pollinating insects. Spatterdock reproduces by seeds and spreads by growth of its large fleshy roots. It will also grow from fragments of roots if the plant is broken up.

Humans have put spatterdock to many uses. Historically many cultures ate the roots cooked fresh in stews or dried and ground into flour for baking. The seeds were gathered by Native Americans and either ground into flour or popped like popcorn. The leaves and roots also contain tannin which was put to use in dyeing and tanning. Medicinally, the leaves were used to stop bleeding, and roots were used in a poultice for cuts, swelling, and other ailments. The Quinault Tribe believed that some of the roots looked like men, and others like women, so they chose a root appropriate for the patient before using it as a pain remedy. Most recently spatterdock has been used as an aquarium and water garden plant.

Spatterdock is also a valuable plant for fish and wildlife habitat. Its large leaves provide shade, cover from predators, and a home for many tiny invertebrates which fish use for food. The seeds are eaten by ducks and other birds, and muskrat, beaver, and nutria will eat the roots. Deer have also been known to browse the flowers and leaves. When spatterdock is accompaniedby other native aquatic plants, it is very beneficial to wildlife habitat and an important part of a lake ecosystem.


has small floating leaves with the underside often coated in a gelatinous slime and inconspicuous purple flowers.

Water-shield is identified by the thick coating of gelatinous slime covering the young stems, buds, and the undersides of young leaves. The long reddish leaf stalks are attached to the centers of the floating oval leaves, giving them an umbrella-like appearance. Water-shield flowers are small, purplish, and rise slightly above the water, but are not particularly showy. Because of the floating leaves, some taxonomists consider water-shield to be in the water-lily family (Nymphaeaceae)

Leaf: Oval leaves (4-12 cm long and 3-8 cm wide) float on the water surface. The leaves have purple undersides with long, centrally-attached leaf-stalks up to 2 m long. A slimy gelatinous substance usually covers the stalks and underside of young leaves and stems.

Stem: Arise from submersed, branching, reddish creeping rhizomes.

Flower: The 5-20 cm long flower stalks each bear a single purplish flower with 3 sepals and 3 (4) similar-looking petals. Each flower measures up to 2.5 cm across and is elevated slightly above the water surface. Blooms May to September.

Fruit: Each flower produces 4-18 separate narrowly egg-shaped, leathery fruits between 6-8 mm long. Each fruit usually contains 2 seeds. They ripen underwater and decay to release seeds.

Root: Slender, branched, creeping rhizomes.

Propagation: Rhizomes, seeds, winter buds.

Importance of plant: The rhizomes and leaves have been used for food and medicinal purposes by Native Americans. The Japanese use the young leaves and stems in salads. Provides habitat for fish and aquatic insects; seeds and vegetation are eaten by waterfowl.

Distribution: Throughout most of the United States and southern Canada. Also occurs in Central America, Cuba, Africa, East Asia and Australia.

Habitat: Shallow ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams. It grows in water 0.5-3 m deep.

May be confused with: Fragrant water-lily (Nymphaea odorata), some floating-leaved pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.), or yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltata) but only water-shield is covered by a slimy coating with the stem attached at the center of an oval leaf. Water-lilies have showy white or pink flowers and leaves cleft to the stalk. Floating-leaved pondweeds have the stem attached at the leaf edge and yellow floating heart has yellow flowers with fringed edges. 


(Used with Permission from the Washington State Department of Ecology)