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Nelumbo nucifera is the only Australian species in this small family, inhabiting permanent or seasonally drying wetlands in the tropical monsoonal north from the Kimberley region of Western Australia to Cape York, and exending beyond Australia to South-East Asia, China and India. Another species occurs in Central America.

Characteristic features of the family Nelumbonaceae in Australia include:

  • large-leaved water lily spreading by stout rhizomes, with very large, peltate leaves usually held above the water surface, and large shiny flowers held above the leaves
  • flowers red, pink, yellow or white, with many free perianth parts
  • stamens numerous, each with a linear appendage terminating the anther
  • ovary comprising a pithy, flat topped receptacle with numerous embedded carpels, developing into a hard, woody fruit


Perennial aquatic herbs rooted in the substrate with their leaves emergent. Perennating by rhizomes. Vegetative reproduction by rhizomes. Internal secretions not obvious. Plants glabrous. Leaves alternate and spiral, all or mostly basal, petiolate or peltate. Stipules ochreate, scale-like or membranous, persistent. Lamina simple, symmetric, orbicular; margins entire, ±flat; venation radiate, with the midrib inconspicuous, and the tertiary venation not reticulate; surfaces not punctate; herbaceous, leathery or succulent. All the flowers bisexual. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, consisting of solitary flowers. Bracts and bracteoles absent. Pollination by insects. Flowers stalked. Floral disc absent. Perianth regular, of 2 dissimilar whorls, imbricate in bud. Calyx segments free, with 2 sepals, herbaceous. Corolla segments free, with 1025 petals, with no clear relationship to the sepals, white, yellow or pink, without contrasting markings, membranous; claws absent; lobes ±entire. Fertile stamens numerous, not clearly correlated with sepals, free of corolla, free of ovary and style, distinct from each other, all ±equal. Anthers dorsifixed, not versatile, opening sideways or inwards by longitudinal slits, 2-celled; with apical appendages. Ovary superior and sessile. Carpels 1040, free from each other or apparently fused; ovary with 1040 locules. Style absent and the stigma ±sessile. Ovules 1 per locule, stalked; placentation apical. Fruit dry and indehiscent, consisting of several nuts immersed in a much enlarged and expanding, stalked receptacle (pomarium); the perianth on the maturing fruit deciduous. Disseminule micro-surface ±smooth, brown, dull. Seeds 1040 per aggregate fruit. Aril absent. Cotyledons 2. Embryo straight.
(Note: this description has been generated from the coded data compiled for the key. Any errors in the key data will be reflected in the descriptions.)

A treatment of the family Nelumbonaceae has not yet been published in the Flora of Australia. It will appear in Volume 2.

Australian genera of Nelumbonaceae (as recognised for the Flora of Australia)


Nelumbo nucifera (flower and fruit)
Photo: S.Jacobs S.Jacobs 

Nelumbo nucifera (flower)
Photo: M.Fagg ANBG