Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar variegata)

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Yellow Pond Lily on the edge of Simkins Pond at the Paul Smith's College VIC (14 July 2015).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Yellow Pond Lilies are found along the margins of lakes and ponds, in marshes, and in slow-moving streams. These aquatic plants have floating green and purple-tinged leaves with wavy edges and cup-shaped yellow flowers rising a few inches above the water. Yellow Pond Lily on the edge of Simkins Pond at the Paul Smith's College VIC (14 July 2015).

Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar variegata) is an aquatic wildflower which produces yellow flowers in June, July, and early August in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It is a member of the Nymphaeaceae family, which consists of two genera: Nuphar and Nymphaea.  The Nymphaea genus includes the White Water Lily, another aquatic plant often seen in similar habitats as the Yellow Pond Lily.

The taxonomy of the Nuphar genus has been revised in light of recent research, which means that different sources categorize Yellow Pond Lily differently. The current thinking, reflected in the New York Flora Atlas treatment of these plants, is that the Nuphar genus contains eight lower taxa, including four species found in the Adirondack Park:

Other common names include Beaver-lily, Beaver-root, Brandy-bottle, Bullhead Lily, Bull-head Lily, Bullhead Pond-lily, Spatterdock, Common Spatter Dock, Common Spatterdock, Common Yellow Pond Lily, Cow Lily, Cow-Lily, Dog-lily, Large Yellow Pond-lily, Variegated Yellow Pond-lily, Varigated Yellow Pond-lily, Yellow Cowlily, Yellow Pondlily, Yellow Pond-lily, and Yellow Water-lily.


Identification of Yellow Pond Lily

Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Yellow Pond Lily on Heron Marsh at the Paul Smith's College VIC (11 July 2017).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Yellow Pond Lily flowers are held a few inches above the surface of the water. Yellow Pond Lily on Heron Marsh at the Paul Smith's College VIC (11 July 2017).

Yellow Pond Lilies are floating aquatic plants with long stalks growing from spongy rhizomesRhizomeRhizome: The modified subterranean stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes are also called creeping rootstalks and rootstocks. anchored in the muddy bottom of a water body. The stems are slippery and often slimy to the touch.

Yellow Pond Lily leaves are mostly floating, although occasionally submersed.

  • The leaves are green, sometimes with a purple tinge.
  • The leaves are alternateAlternate leaf arrangementAlternate: An arrangement of leaves (or buds) on a stem (or twig) in which the leaves emerge from the stem one at a time. This often makes the leaves appear to alternate on the stem., meaning there is one leaf per node.
  • The margins (edges of the leaf) are smoothSmooth leaf marginSmooth leaf edges do not have any teeth. (untoothed) and slightly wavy.
  • The leaves are two to six inches long, oval, with a rounded tip and a deep cleft at the base.
  • The lobesLobed LeafLobe: A projection from an edge of a plant structure (such as a leaf), larger than a tooth. Lobed leaves are leaves with distinct protrusions, either rounded or pointed. sometimes overlap, with a leaf notch which is usually less than half as long as the blade's midribLeaf Structure: Blade and MidribMidrib: The main or central vein of a leaf..

The flowers of the Yellow Pond Lily emerge on separate stalks, rising several inches above the surface of the water.

  • The flowers are cup-shaped and 1½  to 2½ inches wide.
  • The flowers have six petal-like sepalsFlower Structure: Petal and SepalSepal: One of the usually separate, green parts that surround and protect the flower bud and extend from the base of a flower after it has opened. and many small yellow petals resembling stamensFlower Structure: Stamen, Petal, SepalStamen: The male part of the flower, made up of the filament and anther.. The outer surface of the flower is bright yellow, usually green near the base. The inner surface is often red or maroon near the base.
  • There is a yellowish disk-like stigmaFlower Structure: Stigma, Ovary, StyleStigma: part of the pistil, which is the seed-producing, or female, unit of a flower. The stigma is the tip of the pistil, where the pollen lands. in the center of the flower, marked with lines like the spokes of a wheel.
Wetland Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park: Yellow Pond Lily along the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (10 June 2017).
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Yellow Pond Lily usually begins blooming in June in the northern and central Adirondacks. Yellow Pond Lily along the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (10 June 2017).

In the Adirondack Park, Yellow Pond Lilies typically bloom from early through mid-summer. A tally of flowering dates for the upland Adirondack areas compiled by Michael Kudish, based on data collected from the early seventies to the early nineties, lists a median flowering date of 5 July. This is consistent with more recent data on flowering, which suggest that flowering for areas in the northern part of the Adirondacks begins in mid-June (early June in some years), extending through late July and early August. Bloom dates for plants in the southern parts of the Adirondack Park are somewhat earlier.

Yellow Pond Lily fruit consists of an oval capsule, up to about 1½ inches long. The capsule is ribbed and purple-tinged.

Yellow Pond Lily can be distinguished from other members of the Nuphar genus by the size of its leaves and the size and color of its flowers.

  • Red-disked Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar rubrodisca), as the name implies, has a red disk, in contrast to Yellow Pond Lily's yellow disk. For Red-disked Yellow Pond Lily, the lobesLobed LeafLobe: A projection from an edge of a plant structure (such as a leaf), larger than a tooth. Lobed leaves are leaves with distinct protrusions, either rounded or pointed. of the leaves are about half as long as the blade's midribLeaf Structure: Blade and MidribMidrib: The main or central vein of a leaf..
  • Small-leaved Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar microphylla) has much smaller flowers, from ½ to ¾ inches in diameter. The leaves are much smaller than those of Yellow Pond Lily and more deeply lobed, with the sinusLobed LeafSinus: In leaves with lobes, the indented area between two lobes. ⅔ or more the length of the midrib.
  • Intertidal Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar advena) is very similar to Yellow Pond Lily, but its leaves are usually held several inches above the water. It is relatively rare within the Adirondack Park, being predominantly a species of tidal marshes along the Hudson River.

Uses of Yellow Pond Lily

Native American people used this plant as a food source, boiling or roasting the roots or drying and grinding them into meal or flowers. The roasted seeds were also eaten like popcorn.

Yellow Pond Lily also played an important role in Native American medicine. The plant was reportedly used as an analgesic and anticonvulsive by the Iroquois. Other tribes are said to have used the plant to treat a variety of ailments, including skin conditions, rheumatic pain, and heart conditions. There are also some accounts of the root being powdered and used as a poultice. At least one source warns that large doses of the root are potentially toxic.

Wildlife Value of Yellow Pond Lily

Amphibians of the Adirondack Park: Eastern Painted Turtle near the Black Pond Trail at the Paul Smith's College VIC (28 April 2013).
Amphibians of the Adirondacks: Yellow Pond Lilies provide an important food source for Eastern Painted Turtles. Eastern Painted Turtle near the Black Pond Trail at the Paul Smith's College VIC (28 April 2013).

Yellow Pond Lily benefits a wide variety of wildlife. Its flowers are pollinated by flies and beetles. The plant provides food and shelter for fish, snails, crayfish, and underwater insects. Some invertebrate species reportedly spend their entire life cycle on this plant, grazing, mining, and puncturing leaf blades and roots or consuming the submersed leaves.

  • The plant is a preferred host plant for several species of beetles, such as the Water-lily Leaf Beetle.
  • Other insects, such as the White-tailed Diver, feed on the leaves and stems.

Yellow Pond Lily seeds are said to be a very important component of the diet of Eastern Painted Turtles. These amphibians are most commonly seen sunning themselves on logs protruding from the water of slow-moving streams and marshes where Yellow Pond Lily flourish. Snapping Turtles also use Nuphar species for food and cover.

Several mammal species make use of Yellow Pond Lily plants as a food source, although the plants provide only a relatively small proportion of their diet. For instance, plants in the Nuphar genus are said to provide between five and ten percent of the diet of Beaver and North American Porcupine in the northeastern regions of the US. Together with other aquatic plants, Yellow Pond Lily also provides a food source for Moose.

Birds of the Adirondack Park: Ring-necked Duck on Heron Marsh (21 June 2016).
Birds of the Adirondacks: Yellow Pond Lily seeds are a choice food of Ring-necked Ducks. Ring-necked Duck on Heron Marsh (21 June 2016).

Several species of birds can sometimes be seen feeding on Yellow Water Lily.

  • American Black Duck ducklings feed on its seeds.
  • The diet of Ring-necked Ducks is composed largely of vegetative material, especially the seeds of aquatic plants, including plants in the Nuphar genus.

Distribution of Yellow Pond Lily

Yellow Pond Lilies can be found throughout Canada and in the northern United States, south to Maryland, and west to Idaho. Yellow Pond Lily is listed as Endangered in Ohio.

Yellow Pond Lily occurs in nearly all counties in the eastern half of New York State.  It can be found in all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line.

Habitat of Yellow Pond Lily

Yellow Pond Lily can tolerate sun to part shade. It grows in mucky soil in water less than about seven feet deep, on the edges of ponds and lakes. It is also found in marshes and slow-moving rivers and streams. It is often seen near White Water Lily.

In the Adirondack Mountains, Yellow Pond Lilies are found in several ecological communities, including:

Yellow Pond Lily can be seen on Heron Marsh at the Paul Smith's College VIC, from the Heron Marsh Trail, Woods and Waters Trail, and Logger's Loop Trail. It is also found in the slow-moving water of Barnum Brook, on the Boreal Life Trail. You can also find Yellow Pond Lilies growing in the marshy areas near the southern end of the Bloomingdale Bog Trail.


References

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Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park

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