A Guide to The Lotus & Water Lilies of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens!

By Shannah Cumberbatch

Many park visitors come to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for birding, hiking, and photography. However, the vast majority of visitors stop by the Gardens during the summer months to witness the floral spectacular of the lotus and water lilies in peak bloom. Let’s learn about some of the lotus and water lily varieties you may see during your visit to the Gardens!


There are only two species of lotus in the genus Nelumbo (Asian and American), however there are many varieties within the Asian species. Many people revere them as they often symbolize purity, resilience, and rebirth. The lotus flower petals at the park are pink, yellow, white, or a combination of these three colors. Peak bloom for the lotus plants at the Gardens is June through August with some early or late bloomers in May and September, respectively.

Lotus are unique in that they have a super hydrophobic surface which means that they do not like water. They possess a waxy coating that prevents the plant from getting wet or dirty. Water that lands on its surface will be repelled and carry with it dirt and mud leaving the plant with a clean appearance. This is a self-cleaning trait commonly referred to as the “Lotus effect.” The next time you’re at the park, pour some water on a lotus and watch what happens! 

Asian lotus varieties at the Gardens:

Manchurian Lotus
Chinese Double Rose Lotus
Empress Lotus
Sacred Asian Lotus

American lotus at the Gardens:

American Lotus

Water Lily

All water lilies fall under the genus Lilium and family Nymphaeaceae. Water lilies differ from lotus in that they grow on or directly above the water’s surface. Some water lilies appear to “rise” above the water’s surface, but that is due to a change in the tide as the Gardens are part of a tidal marshland connected to the Anacostia River. The water lilies at the Gardens typically bloom from about mid-April through mid-September.

There are two primary water lilies found at the Gardens: hardy and tropical. Hardy water lilies are able to withstand colder temperatures. They are perennial plants that overwinter in the ponds and bloom every spring. While not as spectacular in color as the tropical water lilies, hardy water lilies do come in variations of white, pink and yellow. Hardy water lilies have rounded petals with lily pads that resemble Pac Man. Given their tough nature, hardy water lilies are commonly found in local lakes, ponds, and slow-moving waterways.

Tropical water lilies are more delicate and thrive in warmer climates. Unlike their hardy counterparts, they cannot survive the harsh winter weather and must remain in the hot houses at the Gardens from October through late May or early June. They come in vibrant, bright colors and sometimes feature petals with more than one color. Their petals are more pointed creating a flower that is star-like in shape. The lily pads have a serrated edge as opposed to the smooth edge seen in hardy water lily pads. Tropical water lilies can be day-blooming or night-blooming depending on the variety. You will find these flowers in the display ponds behind the visitor center from June through mid-September.

Hardy Water Lilies at the Gardens:

Helen Fowler Water Lilies
White Hardy Lily

Tropical Water Lilies at the Gardens:

Pink Tropical Water Lily
Peach Tropical Water Lily
Purple Tropical Water Lily

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