Water lily: care and propagation

The water lily, also called calla lilies, are one of the most famous flowers in bouquets and ornamental plants, for their delicate flower. This toxic plant native to southern Africa is tremendously decorative. We tell you the secrets of their care.


The water lilies whose scientific name is Zantedeschia aethiopica belong to a very small genus of plants of only 8 accepted species. Although there are more names, they are synonymous with these 8.

Specifically, the water lily is found today as an ornamental plant for the width and length of the planet, but its distribution in the natural environment is a very different story. According to data from GBIF.org, this species is native to South Africa, more specifically in Mozambique and surrounding areas, where it is evident that it is in a natural state, but today it is widely distributed throughout Europe, the west coast of the American continent, Central America Australia and New Zealand mainly. In Spain its presence is quite high throughout the peninsula in the coastal areas always .

Calla lily or water lily distribution map. Extracted from GBIF.org

Historically they have been known for a long time because they already appear in Greek mythology linked to Venus , goddess of love, beauty and fertility, and also to the goddess Hera , wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage. Of course, the association to the love ties of the water lily is patent in Classical Greece and has survived to this day because you will see this flower in numerous flower arrangements at weddings .

In Europe they were introduced many centuries ago. The first written reference to this plant dates from 1664 in the Royal Garden of Paris, but it could have been well before its introduction on the continent.


This is something important that you should know.  The water lily is not a lily , and although they are rhizomatous like some lilies , the taxonomic relationship is null since they do not belong to the same family.


Usually they are white or cream colored, although pink varieties or even an almost maroon purple, intense burgundy color, and even orange and yellow varieties are becoming very popular , which almost damage the sight! They have very vivid colors.

It is very popular because the flower’s own fabric is thick with a really soft texture that lasts a long time as a cut flower . They are very resistant and also have a very pleasant, sweet and very delicate aroma.

Pink calla lily or water lily. Photo by Dave Shafer

The plant has large, dark green, low-growing leaves, ideal for indoors, which is why it has become truly popular.

The flowering of water lilies is persistent once it blooms but we have to provide the plant with two things to activate flowering . Warm temperatures and humidity . Later we see it in depth.

It is a toxic plant   and if you have pets like cats that tend to purge themselves by eating leaves, keep this plant out of their reach.


If you live in the right area, you can grow lilies outdoors. Many may well “die” in winter, but the rhizome remains dormant underground until the following spring. And what is that suitable zone?

Well, mainly dark, humid and warm environments. All apparently very tropical, but we will see later that there is a wide range of climates. Let’s see variable by variable what the so-called coves need .


They like the warm environment . A summer day of about 25 degrees is wonderful, although the 20 degrees of a house are perfect for this species, although it can withstand lower temperatures, reaching a degree below zero without being very persistent and very aggressive frosts.

According to the hardness zones (they are a classification of thermal rusticity widely used in plants) the water lily supports temperatures between 1 and -5ºC but not for a long time.

They are seasonal flowers in their natural habitat but at home they can remain green all year round .

As for the light issue, they do not support direct sun . Don’t put them near a window. They will like some indirect, sifted light and don’t mind growing in partial shade . If you have a room where, for example, the sun shines during the last hours of the day, the water lilies will grow without problem.

It is important to bear in mind that temperatures below 10ºC manage to inactivate the plant and it will not be able to flower, as if they have a dry substrate. To see a flower it is important to take these factors into account.

Appearance of a group of blooming water lilies. Photo by Ren Kuo


It is one of the determining factors of this plant. They need a lot of water . We always say that there is often a lack of excess water in many plants, that it is better to fall short due to the dreaded root suffocation. Well, the water lily or calla lily is one of those exceptions that prove the rule.

You don’t have to go overboard either, but indoors they may even need daily watering indoors . The substrate must be kept moist continuously, rather than humid in fact during flowering, which will be spring and part of summer.

Once it passes, the frequency of irrigation should be reduced gradually until the arrival of winter where we will let the rhizome rest without any irrigation. When the winter is over we can transplant the rhizome (it is advisable every 2 years) and start watering for regrowth.

Outdoors less since the water holding capacity of the soil is greater than that of a substrate in a pot.

According to the distribution we can find this species in coastal areas , that is, where there is environmental humidity. We have to provide it. We can spray water from time to time and / or put a plate of gravel or expanded clay balls with water.


Another of the aspects in which this flat is contrary to the common of the kingdom. Although a soil with good water retention but well drained is always ideal, it will not suffer if the soil texture is loamy, that is, heavy.

We must remember that these water lilies are called water lilies because they grow in pond areas, where it is very common to have a flooded and caked soil structure, with a silty, heavy and not very aerated texture. The ideal pH for this plant is neutral or slightly acidic.

Subscribing must be done a little before and during flowering. It is advisable to use slow release fertilizers . The fertilization is important to induce flowering in addition to control temperature and humidity.


Rhizomatous plants are really easy to multiply. Once they sprout from the rhizome we can propagate them by division. Outdoors, they will occupy the space you leave them in groups.

With time and the passing of years, it is easy for the “mother” rhizome to lose vigor , so to speak , and it is advisable to renew them from time to time. Indoors, transplantation should also be done every 2 years.


Yellowed leaves: It is almost always a sign of drought. It is a plant that needs a lot of water. It can also be heat stress from cold. Watch these two aspects and you will see that it improves substantially.

It does not bloom: It is also a matter of temperature and humidity and / or irrigation. Indoors it is necessary to go to a gravel plate with water around it to provide the necessary humidity. The interiors of the houses are usually very dry. Use a slow-release fertilizer.

The aphid can be an enemy of this plant. You already know that the best way to treat aphids is with potassium soap .

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