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Nymphoides thunbergiana

Fairy Water Lily

fairy water lily

The decorative leaves of indigenous aquatics, like the Fairy Water Lily, and the showy blooms in season always command attention. They are easily grown in full sun, in still water that is protected from strong wind, and they can also be displayed in large water-filled ceramic containers in sunny courtyards.

In addition to their ornamental qualities, the mats of floating leaf pads serve as a platform for frogs, dragonflies and other insects while simultaneously providing protection from predators to a host of pond creatures, including fish fingerlings and tadpoles.

Their scented flowers attract bees and those of at least one species are edible. For the home gardener, three of the best indigenous aquatics that have floating leaves are Aponogeton Distachyos, Nymphaea Nouchali and Nymphoides Thunbergiana. A word of caution is necessary though: under ideal conditions these plants can become overwhelming and require annual thinning.

Nymphoides Thunbergiana is an evergreen or deciduous perennial that is native to pools in the Western and Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West, as well as Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland. It is a member of the Menyanthaceae or ‘Bogbean’ family and was previously (well) known as Nymphoides Indica.

The plants form mats of attractive, bright green, heart-shaped leaves and in summer they bear ­ five-petalled yellow flowers that have feathery edges. The flowers are produced singly on short stalks that emerge from a node in the uppermost part of the petiole (leaf stalk), and stand above the water. In mild areas the leaves are evergreen, remaining attractive all year round. In colder inland parts the plant goes dormant in winter and can survive light frost, surviving by means of subterranean rhizomes.

Nymphoides Thunbergiana is an excellent choice for still garden ponds that are about 40 cm deep. It can also be grown in ceramic containers or waterproof wooden barrels. It likes full sun and a rich, well composted soil. It is fast growing and vigorous, producing new plantlets at the tips of floating stolons that develop from the same node as the flowers. Once the new plants have developed sufficient roots they can be removed and planted elsewhere simply by cutting the stolons.