White wa­terlily

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston Illustration by Bill Dono­hoe

FROM a stout, rooty stem, firmly an­chored into the beds of canals, ponds and lakes across the coun­try, the pure-white-petalled wa­terlily, Nym­phaea alba, dots the wa­ter’s sur­face with its yolk-cen­tred waxy stars. Open­ing as the morn­ing pro­gresses, they’re best ad­mired in the mid­dle of the day, as the flow­ers close up again with the re­ced­ing sun.

It takes quite a lot of leaf area to build up steam in the plant and get it to flow­er­ing ca­pac­ity. The flat, din­ner-plate leaves are them­selves at­trac­tive, be­ing leath­ery green, some­times re­veal­ing red­dish un­der­sides when they crum­ple at the edges. The stems of both leaf and flower will lengthen some 6ft–9ft through spring and early sum­mer to reach the wa­ter’s sur­face, cre­at­ing joined-up para­sols that ben­e­fit nu­mer­ous sub­merged crea­tures.

Beatrix Pot­ter, al­ways a keen ob­server of Na­ture’s go­ings-on around her, turned her ob­ser­va­tions of pond life into The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher, who makes use of a lily-pad boat from which to catch min­nows, although he hauls out a prickly stick­le­back in­stead.

Re­gional folk names Pot­ter might have come across in­clude lady of the lake and swan among the flow­ers, but, for cen­turies, na­tive wa­terlilies were en­joyed not just for their tran­sient beauty but also as apothe­caries’ plants, with ex­tracted oils and dis­til­la­tions be­ing ap­plied in a range of treat­ments, tack­ling skin blem­ishes, sun­burn and bald­ness among other things. KBH

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