This is a post about water lilies. They are ubiquitous along the Chobe river. I was captivated by their “lotus” type beautiful blooms, and the interesting shapes, colours and the textures of their leaves.
“Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things.”
When you think of water lilies you think of Monet. Over 250 of his paintings depict his flower garden at Giverny and was the main focus of his artistic work during the last thirty years of his life. The beauty of the French village, Giverny, struck Monet when he passed through on a train. The artist was so inspired that in 1883 he rented a house there. It became his home in 1890. He was so taken by water lilies that he imported them for his Giverny garden from Egypt and South America. The local authorities were not impressed and demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the area’s water, but Monet ignored them.
Many years after his death, in exchange for some of Monet’s grandest works, the nation honoured him by displaying a number of them at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Claude Monet, Les Nymphéas (The Water Lilies), is a suite of paintings on permanent exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie. Two specially made oval exhibition rooms were built to house his massive Water Lilies, creating a complete panorama of the painter’s favorite views.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Two species of water lily occur in southern Africa. One is Nymphaea Lotus, the white water lily, or white lotus which has white or cream flowers and is widespread in tropical to southern Africa, and usually thrives in sheltered water 0.5-2.5m deep and in swamps. The other southern African species is Nymphaea Nouchali, the blue lotus.
The water lily family has five genera and about 70 species. They are rhizomes which root themselves in soil underneath bodies of water. Their leaves and flowers float on the surface. The leaves are round, with a radial notch in Nymphaea and Nuphar, and are fully circular in the Victoria and Euryale species.
Although African Jacanas are found foraging along all parts of the sub-equatorials river they do seem to prefer lily pad groves.
This Jacana walked past an upturned water lily pad. At times, the wind gets underneath the pad and lifts it up showing its very textured underside.
There is a reason for everything in nature, as you would expect as your are seeing the latest evolutionary version. The leaves show many interesting adaptations to their watery environment. The margins are slightly rolled inwards toward the uppermost side which helps keep the blades afloat. The underside of the leaf, which is continually wet, has an expanded surface area due to its heavily veined structure which extends the lily pad’s capillary suction to the water and this holds the leaf flat against the water. The veins also act like a structural support for the leaves. The upper leaf surface is coated with a smooth waxy cuticle, which gives it the appearance of being leathery and shiny. This water-repellent waxy layer is of vital importance to the plant, not only to help prevent the leaf from sinking, but also to prevent the tiny stomatal pores, through which it breathes, from becoming clogged with dust. When water splashes onto the leaf surface, it forms rounded droplets that roll across the surface cleaning up the dust as they go. Clean dust free leaves are also better able to photosynthesise effectively
The underside of water lily pads present themselves in a vast array of colours from yellow to deep purple and maroon.
A grove of water lilies. Their flowers close at night and open to greet the sun.
Waterways are apparent through the lilies where hippos, elephants and boats have passed.
The African Jacana relies on the water lilies for food and a degree of support when it is walking across the water, but some of them show little respect for the support systems.
Water lilies are spring and summer bloomers that create a single elaborate and beautiful flower.
The beautiful Pygmy Goose’s main diet is the seeds of water lilies and it is one of it key dispersants. It eats the seed pods and fruit of water-dwelling plants, especially water lilies, using a variety of foraging techniques such as surface feeding and diving.
As the water lily flower becomes waterlogged, the closed lotus flower sinks into the mud to germinate.
“Nature’s own masterpieces will never go away. If I am able to cast just a few of them in favourable light, and convince you, the viewer, to look at them again with greater appreciation and perhaps a fresh perspective, then I have succeeded as an artist.”
~Scott L. Christensen
Some water lily leaves are purple underneath, the pigments help to concentrate the sunlight to maximise photosynthesis. The leaf stem is hollow and transports air from the surface to the underwater rhizomes which can grow to a massive size. Water Lilies grow best in calm freshwater.
The open water lily blooms attract a variety of insects which the Jacanas find appealing.
Its the variety of natural shapes, textures and colours which are so beguiling to photographers.
“Art takes nature as its model.”
The lily pads can be as dramatic as the flowers, in both shape and colour.
Water lilies provide shade and hiding places for fish and other water animals. Often when threatened, Jacana chicks will dive under the water lily pad and have just their beaks above the water so that they can breath.
There are numerous flies, beetles and snails which are found on the water lily pads all of which both Jacanas, Crakes and Squacco Herons seem to find edible.
Water lilies prefer calm water and it is in this calm water that photographers find art in nature.
“There is unspeakable beauty and potential to be found in nature. It entices me and is an invitation I just have to accept.”
The large, elegant blue flowers are held well above the water at the tip of a sturdy green stalk and appear almost constantly from spring until the end of summer. They are bisexual, star-like, with 4 sepals, green on the outside and white to blue on the inside, with many blue petals. In the centre of the flower are numerous blue-tipped bright golden yellow stamens. There are colour forms other than blue that occasionally occur, e.g. white, mauve and pink.
Water lilies are herbaceous and obviously baboons find them tasty salad ingredients.
Water lilies have many uses. African Jacanas gather the stems of water lily plants together to form a tangled raft on which they lay their well camouflaged eggs. The chicks are precocial when born and are able to fend for themselves almost immediately so the nest does not have to be long lasting.
Once pollinated the Nymphaea lotus flower stem tightens in a spiralling spring to bring the flower head underwater. The fruit develops underwater into a spongy berry with many seeds that are enclosed in arils. When ripe, up to 2,000 seeds are released from each fruit. Young seeds float as they contain air pockets. They are then dispersed by water currents or by water birds that eat them.
I hope this post has given you, in some small sense, the wonderfully integrated web of life around humble water lilies.
“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night: to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring… these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.