Discover the National Flower of Bangladesh: the White Water Lily

Written by Rebecca Mathews
Published: February 3, 2023
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Bangladesh is a country filled with incredible flora, fauna, and people. It spans an array of geographical areas that support a wide range of beautiful native flowers, but do you know which reached the top spot? Discover the national flower of Bangladesh: the white water lily.

What is the National Flower of Bangladesh?

The national flower of Bangladesh is the white water lily (Nymphaea nouchali). In Bangladesh, it’s called “Shada Shapla” and is very common in waterways. Water lilies are also eaten and used in traditional medicine by Bangladeshis. A stylized white water lily appears on several of Bangladesh’s public services.

The National Emblem

Bangladesh’s national emblem is a white water lily surrounded by rice sheaves and stars

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Shapla Square

At the center of Motijheel, near its capital city Dhaka, is a huge water lily fountain monument. It’s a war memorial, mass grave, and a roundabout.  

Coinage

A water lily appears on Bangladesh’s money, such as the one taka note that was issued in 1973.

What is Bangladesh Like?

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is located in South Asia, with 165 million people living in its 148,460 square kilometers. That’s smaller than Georgia, which is home to 10 million.

India, Myanmar, and the Bay of Bengal border Bangladesh. Bangladesh is known for its Ganges Delta River (the world’s largest delta), monsoon seasons, and its vulnerability to flooding. Experts think that 10% of Bangladesh would flood if sea levels rise by just another 3.3 feet.

Its moist, fertile land and extensive mangrove, river, and lake ecosystems are home to many aquatic plants like lotus and waterlilies, so it’s no surprise that Bangladesh’s national flower is the white water lily.

Why is a White Water Lily the National Flower of Bangladesh?

Water lilies plant their roots in the soil and grow long stems so their flower can float on the water’s surface. Because Bangladesh is so affected by water, the white water lily symbolizes its citizens’ ability to cope with its frequent floods, monsoons, and threats posed by climate change.

There are blue, pink, yellow, and red water lilies in Bangladesh, too, but the white flowering lily represents the purity and innocence of its people.

White Water Lily: Flowers and Foliage

White water lilies are quite beautiful and are used as decorative jewelry by Bangladeshis.

©Wulan Rohmawati/Shutterstock.com

Water lilies are freshwater aquatic flowering plants that do not grow in seawater. They’re part of the Nymphaeaceae family and native to a wide area, including most of Europe, North Africa, tropical Asia, and temperate Asia.

Water lilies were first described by the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753, but new colors have been discovered along the way. The red flowering water lily was first spotted in a Swedish lake in the early 1800s, but it’s now protected due to over-harvesting.

Water lilies grow by anchoring their roots into the rich soil beneath large lakes and ponds and producing underwater stems up to 59 inches long (150 centimeters). The stems stop growing when they break the surface and develop either lily pads (leaves) or flowers. Oval- or heart-shaped lily pads measure up to 12 inches in diameter and float on the water’s surface like boats.

Their flowers also float on water! They are white with lots of pollen-laded yellow stamens inside a protective cup of long thin, and waxy petals. The flowers are quite beautiful and are used as decorative jewelry by Bangladeshis.

Historical and Medical Use of the White Water Lily

A white water lily is not just beautiful; it’s also eaten! Boiled or roasted water lily tubers and rhizomes are delicious alongside lightly steamed water lily flowers and leaves.

But that’s not all! Water lilies are an essential element of Indian ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurvedic traditions, water lilies are called ambals, used to treat gastric illnesses such as indigestion. Recent studies have highlighted its potential to fight diabetes and liver damage.

Studies have also uncovered that this excellent plant might be a sedative, an aphrodisiac, or an anaphrodisiac. Early medical textbooks report monks and nuns crushing water lily roots with wine to reduce unwanted sexual desires.

Do Water Lilies Really Grow in Water?

Yes, water lilies do grow in water! They have evolved into aquatic plants that dig their roots into the soil of river and lake bottoms but float their foliage and flowers on the surface.

They float flowers so pollinators like beetles, moths, and bees can reach them. Floating flowers and leaves also create safe habitats for amphibians and fish who can shelter from birds and other predators.

How to Grow a White Water Lily

White water lilies are perennial plants that die down in fall and re-emerge in spring, so don’t be concerned when they disappear over winter.

Before trying to grow a water lily, check whether the species is hardy or tropical. In the US, tropical water lilies need zones 9-11, but hardy water lilies can go as low as zone 4. The tropical species are larger and have incredible cup-shaped flowers, but they need warm water in summer (at least 21 degrees Celsius/70 degrees Fahrenheit).

Water lilies are sold as bare-root plants via mail or in aquatic baskets at a garden center. Either way, they need to be submerged as soon as possible.

Here’s how to grow water lilies:

  • Wait until spring before planting water lilies because they need warmth to get established.
  • If your lily is mail order and bare root, you need an aquatic basket, hessian liner, and aquatic soil.
  • Choose a position that isn’t disturbed by fountains or filters because waterlilies need still waters.
  • Full sun is best and will create the most colorful blooms.
  • Lower the water lily to a depth indicated by the information label. It’s usually 18 inches for dwarf species, 30 inches for medium species, and 30 inches to four feet for large cultivars.
  • If the pond is too deep, place bricks in the water to raise the height.
  • Waterlilies are hungry plants, so add a tablet of aquatic plant fertilizer to the compost each spring.
  • Deadhead them as flowers die off.
  • Lift and divide them every five years or before if they outgrow the basket.

National Symbols of Bangladesh

Bangladesh has many national symbols that are all native and quite incredible in their own right.

National SymbolDescription
TreeThe delicious mango tree (Mangifera indica) is the most cultivated fruit in the tropics.
FruitThe vegetarian’s favorite jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is the national fruit.
AnimalSadly, only 440 wild royal Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) are left.
FishThe national fish (Tenualosa ilisha) lives in the sea but swims 100 kilometers to freshwaters to spawn. This habit is called anadromous.
BirdThe magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) is commonly called a doyel. They frequent gardens and can be spotted all over Bangladesh.

Other Amazing Plants in Bangladesh

Water lilies aren’t the only unique plants native to Bangladesh. Here are three more beauties.

Arrowheads (Sagittaria sagifolia)

Arrowheads are aquatic flowering plants with distinctive arrow-shaped leaves. They have small white flowers with a yellow center held above the water line on stems. Other names for this plant are “katniss” and the “amusing duck potato” due to its edible roots. In late fall and early spring, locals wade in waterways to dislodge the tubers which float to the surface.

Korpula (Sarcolobus carinatus)

Korpula is a thin latex-covered vine that trails along damp saltwater forest floors and coastal tidal swamps of the mangroves. It has small narrow pale green leaves and tiny yellow-white flowers. Crustaceans eat its fallen leaves. 

Hygrocybe umbilicata 

This endemic to Bangladesh fungus sits in the Hygrophoraceae family and is found in the Singra forest. It’s a mushroom-type fungus with a red cap, yellow stem, and white gills.

Wrapping Up: The White Water Lily

We’ve learned about the white water lily and why Bangladesh holds this incredible flower close to its national identity. Its purity indicates a kind heart, and its ability to grow in water symbolizes Bangladesh’s interactions with monsoons, the largest delta river in the world, and rising sea level threats.

Up Next

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Nahhan


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About the Author

Rebecca is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants and geography. Rebecca has been writing and researching the environment for over 10 years and holds a Master’s Degree from Reading University in Archaeology, which she earned in 2005. A resident of England’s south coast, Rebecca enjoys rehabilitating injured wildlife and visiting Greek islands to support the stray cat population.

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