Recently there has been a great deal of excitement in the northern parts of the park with the discovery of a water lily with white flowers and huge leaves. It was thought that this beautiful plant could only be an alien which would be yet another threat to our delicate water system. Early in March a water lily was discovered in a spruit near Phalaborwa.
As the local rangers had not seen a water lily in the KNP with such large leaves and white flowers it was collected and sent per helicopter to the invasion and disease ecology scientist, Dr Llewellyn Foxcroft, at Skukuza. To the relief of everyone the plant was identified at the Skukuza herbarium as the white waterlily (Nymphaea lotus). When originally collected the plant was thought to have been the Mexican waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana) which is native to the Gulf coast of Mexico and is known to easily invade aquatic water systems when it is introduced.
The Mexican waterlily is also known as the banana waterlily as it has horizontal stems which bear bunches of yellow roots which resemble miniature bananas. The flowers of the Mexican waterlily are pale yellow to cream and thus the resemblance to the indigenous white waterlily.
Our white waterlily has various common names throughout the continent - it is known as the tiger lotus, Egyptian white waterlily, and white Egyptian lotus. It grows in various parts of east Africa from Egypt right down to Kwazulu-Natal. It was first collected in the Kruger National Park in 1996 in the N’wanetsi area.
Apart from the colour difference between the white waterlily and the Mexican waterlily, the white waterlily flowers at night and the blooms close by midmorning. In a study done in the northeastern Ivory Coast it was found that the flowers are visited by a species of rhinoceros beetles. These amorous beetles copulated on the lotus flowers and fed on them at night. Their nightly escapades aided in the pollination of the flowers. During the early morning several bee species visited the flowers. It appears that both bees and beetles were responsible for the pollination of these flowers. Another point of interest about the white waterlily is that the ancient Egyptians believed that this lotus flower gave them strength and power. Remains of the flower have even been found in the burial tomb of Ramesses II.
Different parts of the plant have been used in various areas where it occurs for the treatment of ailments such as constipation, gastrointestinal disorders and jaundice. According to the “Limpopo Protected and Specially Protected Plants” the white waterlily is listed as a protected plant and thus cannot be collected, bought or sold without the necessary permits.