Nymphaea caerulea

Blue Egyptian water lily, Egyptian lily, Sacred blue lily, Blue water lily
N. caerulea flower

N. caerulea fruit

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Nymphaeales
Family: Nymphaeaceae
Genus: Nymphaea Linnaeus
Species: Nymphaea caerulea Savigny

The Blue lotus is actually a perennial water lily. Opening up in the morning and then closing later on in the day, it grows to a height of approximately .75" to 1'. The lily grows in slow or still water and prefers full sun or part shade. The main part of the plant is submerged in water. The sponge-like fruit pod remains underwater and releases many seeds. On the surface float plate-like lily pads and its famous showy and fragrant flowers. These blue star-shaped flowers are about 4-6" across (Missouri Botanical Garden).


The Nymphaeaceae family are commonly called water lilies, and are vascular seed plants. They are angiosperms (flowering plants) and dicots. The family consists of the genera Barclaya, Euryale, Nuphar, Ondinea, Victoria, and Nymphaea. This freshwater family boasts 70+ species living in temperate and tropical climates worldwide. Some Nymphaeaceae are hardy water lilies that bloom only during the day, while others are tropical water lilies, which can bloom both during the day or at night. Some other identifying traits or this family include the following:
  • Known for their colorful flowers
  • Aggregate fruits of nuts, berries, or capsules
  • Many seeds
  • Submerged condensed shoot apical meristem
  • Its leaves are homobaric–widely interconnected like a web
  • Rhizomatous: each leaf is connected to the plant rhizomes by a stem, or petiole
(Missouri Botanical Garden)


N. lotus
N. lotus

N. nouchali
N. nouchali
Nymphaea are closely related to Nuphar, although they differ in petal/sepal proportion and fruit maturation. Two more closely related plants of the N. caerulea are the N. lotus (the Egyptian white water lily) and the N. nouchali/stellata (the star lotus), both of which are often used as aquarium plants. The N. lotus is the national flower of Egypt, while the N. nouchali is the national flower of Sri Lanka.

Contrary to popular belief, the Nymphaea caerulea is not related to the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, which was formerly classified in the Nymphaea genus.
(Harer 1985)

n.cearulea map.png


N. caerulea is native to Egypt, once abundant along the Nile River, although now becoming more and more scarce. It is mostly found in north, east, and central Africa. The plant has also been naturalized to grow in places like Thailand and the Indian Subcontinent. In both its native and naturalized habitats, the Blue water lily and its relatives are revered as sacred plants in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

The plant is unscheduled in the US, although of course, its consumption is not condoned. However, the Blue lotus makes a great decoration, as it and many of its relatives are popular rain and water garden ornaments.

Human Use

Blue Egyptian water lilies have long been used by humans for their psychedelic qualities. Generally, many Nymphaea plants are of interest to shamans due to their containing alkaloid and glycoside substances, as well as others such as nypharin, nymphalin, and ellagic acid. Like many psychedelic plants, N. caeruleacontains alkaloid compounds. The substances most commonly found in the plant are aporphine and nuciferine, which cause a feeling of euphoric tranquility (Kandeler, Ullrich 2009). The lilies also cause heightened awareness as well as hallucinations and visuals that are mild with small to average dosages and become more pronounced with higher dosages. The plant can be consumed in several different ways to feel its psychedelic effects. It can be smoked and eaten, but it seems that the most common way to ingest the plant is by drinking it after soaking or steeping it in wine or in water to make tea. Even the flower's fragrance is said to induce some euphoria, which may be why it is popularly used in aroma therapy.

There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians utilized the N. caerulea as food during the dry season. The rhizomes and tubers of the plant were almost solid starch, and were often boiled or roasted like potatoes. The flowers were also gathered and dried in the sun, pounded in the middle where the fruits and seeds were located, which would then be used to make a kind of bread (Irvine, Trickett 1953).

In Egyptian culture

Blue lotuses were highly revered as visionary plants and as symbols of creation, life, and light in Egyptian mythology for over 4,000 years. The people believed that originally the world was infinite water and darkness. The plant was said to have emerged from the water, releasing the solar gods Ra and Atum and bringing light into the world (Missouri Botanical Garden). Nymphaea caerulea were often put in tombs with the dead, placed close to the feet to feed the spirit and body in the afterlife (Kandeler, Ullrich 2009). The sarcophagi and body of King Tutankhamun were covered in the blue water lilies when his tomb was opened in 1922 by Howard Carter and George Herbert.

The Nymphaea caerulea also had practical uses in ancient Egyptian cultures. These included religious sacrament, as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, a remedy for general sickness, and for perfumes and oils. The Egyptians consumed the plant by smoking it, drinking it after soaking it in wine, or drinking it as tea. Its consumption would cause a feeling of content and tranquility that the people greatly valued.

Wild Card: Egyptian water lilies in art

The ancient Egyptian's reverence for the Blue Lotus meant that it was commonly depicted in their art. Blue lotuses can be seen in funeral art, on tombs, papyrus scrolls, sculptures, containers, and tablets. A common depiction is of the plant being held up to the face as if they are smelling them–this was actually meant to be them consuming the plant for its psychedelic effects and believed healing properties. Other common scenes are the plants being offered to gods or other important figures, being given at social gatherings, used in music and dance scenes, and in ritual offerings (Emboden 1978).


Impressionist painter Claude Monet was known to have a fascination with water lilies and used them as the subject for many of his works. Monet started painting water lilies when he had a pond installed on his property in 1893. Over more than twenty years painted dozens of works featuring the lilies, and used them as inspiration for over twenty years.

"I have come back to things that are impossible to do: water with weeds waving in the depths. Apart from painting and gardening, I am good for nothing. My greatest masterpiece is my garden." - Claude Monet
(Musée d'Orsay)

Emboden, William A. "The Sacred Narcotic Lily of the Nile: Nymphaea caerulea." Economic Botany. 32.4 (1978): 395-407.
Harer, W. Benson. "Pharmacological and Biological Properties of the Egyptian Lotus." Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 22 (1985) 49-54.
Irvine, F.R., and R.S. Trickett. "Waterlilies as Food." Kew Bulletin, Royal Botanical Gardens. 8.3 (1953): 363-370.
Kandeler, Riklef, and Wolfram R. Ullrich. "Symbolism of plants: examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art." Journal of Experimental Botany. 60.9 (2009). <http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/9/2461.full#SEC2>
Missouri Botanical Garden <http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/plant-finder/plant-details/kc/d255/nymphaea-caerulea.aspx>
Musée d'Orsay <http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/blue-water-lilies-2960.html?tx_commentaire_pi1[pidLi]=509&tx_commentaire_pi1[from]=841&cHash=19dc39765c>