Non-native waterlilies are perennial aquatic herbaceous plants. They are rooted with floating leaves or lily pads, and typically have showy, colorful flowers.
Leaves and Stem
The leaves are floating or slightly immersed in shallow water, and are round with a “v-shaped” opening or cleft. Leaf size varies from the size of a silver dollar to the size of a large dinner plate.
Flowers are brightly colored including pink, purple, white, yellow, and red. Individual flowers have many petals and may bloom all summer.
Depending on the species, the plant may or may not produce viable seeds.
Non-native waterlilies grow a fleshy, buried rhizome (an underground stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes) that can spread extensively.
Non-native waterlilies are perennials and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They are typically found in areas with mucky sediment and in less than 10 feet of water.
Origin and Spread
Many species of waterlilies are imported and sold by the water garden trade, leading to the potential for illegal release into the wild. Never release non-native plants into the wild. A handful of populations have been reported across Minnesota and have been removed whenever possible.
Don't be fooled by these look-alikes
There are many native, beneficial waterlilies found in Minnesota lakes and rivers.
- American white waterlily (native)
- Yellow pond lily (native)
- American lotus (native)
- Pickerelweed (native)
- Watershield (native)
Non-native waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.) are regulated invasive species in Minnesota, which means they are legal to possess, sell, buy and transport, but they may not be introduced into a free-living state, such as being released or planted in public waters.
Threat to Minnesota Waters
Invasive species cause recreational, economic and ecological damage—changing how residents and visitors use and enjoy Minnesota waters.
Non-native waterlily impacts:
- Dense mats at the water’s surface inhibit water recreationists.
- Overtakes habitat and outcompetes native aquatic plants, potentially lowering diversity.
- Provides unsuitable shelter, food, and nesting habitat for native animals.
What you should do
People spread non-native waterlilies through the illegal release of aquarium or water garden plants. A single rhizome can start a new population. To avoid spreading non-native waterlilies and other ornamental plants, build water gardens away from public waters and areas prone to flooding. Inspect and rinse aquatic plants to remove seeds, snails, and other hitchhikers. Do not dispose of unwanted aquatic plants or animals in or near public waters. Refer to Habitattitude for alternatives to release.
Whether or not a lake is listed as infested, Minnesota law requires water recreationists to:
- Clean watercraft of all aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species.
- Drain all water by removing drain plugs and keeping them out during transport.
- Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
- Dry docks, lifts, swim rafts and other equipment for at least 21 days before placing equipment into another water body.
Management of invasive aquatic plants involving either mechanical removal of plants or application of herbicides to public waters requires a permit from the DNR. Talk to a DNR specialist for more information.