Water Lilies as a Cut Flower

— Written By Ben Bergmann and last updated by
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Water Lilies as a cut flower crop
Water lilies are not a common cut flower, but they are found now and again at wholesale houses or flower markets. Along with their striking, vibrant colors, some water lilies even have a great fragrance. You may be reluctant to try out this aquatic flower, but if you do, you are sure to have something unique to bring to market. We’ll provide a few production details, and results from a postharvest experiment we conducted here at North Carolina State.


Production may be the easiest aspect of this crop if you already have a pond. We harvested our flowers from a naturally-occurring pond. Where they came from, how old they were, nutrition, and variety were all unknown, but they were free and plentiful!

If you’re interested in growing your own water lilies, you can start your crop using one of two methods. Purchase rhizomes from a big box store or online. Garden centers usually carry live plants throughout a typical growing season. Most will be selling hardy water lilies, which is what we used in our experiments. Avoid planting water lilies into an established natural ecosystem as they can spread rapidly. It is best to keep them contained in your own manmade pond or container.


Harvesting stage can be tricky if you want to store or hold flowers for any length of time, but it is extremely important. Generally, most water lilies are open on the plant for 3 to 4 days, so you need to cut them at the right time to get maximum vase life. When buds are about to open, they will float on the surface of the water in the morning, and open as the sun rises. Many hardy water lilies are day bloomers, so they open in the early morning and close in the evening. Morning harvests will allow you to best identify new buds and flowers.


We implemented our typical postharvest trial test with both buds and first-day flowers. Flowers were placed in either a hydrator solution or water for 4 hours, and then placed into water or a holding solution for 2 days. Flowers were then placed in tap water for vase life evaluation. Neither the hydrator nor holding solution improved vase life. Using a holding solution reduced vase life of both buds and first-day flowers. Buds did not open faster when a hydrator or holding solution was used.

Written by: Nathan Jahnke and John Dole, Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University

Published by: The Cut Flowers Quarterly, Vol 31, No 1

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