How to Plant & Grow Brandy Bottle Lily (Nuphar lutea)


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Brandy bottle plant's heart-shaped leaves floating on the water and yellow flower rising above the water
Brandy bottle’s flowers are pollinated by insects, attracted to its alcoholic scent. Enrico Blasutto, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brandy bottle, also called spadderdock or yellow water-lily, is an aquatic plant in the Nymphaeaceae, or water lily family. It is distributed throughout temperate and subtropical regions in Europe, West Asia, North America, and North Africa. It is thought to have such a wide distribution because water lilies were among the first flowering plants to evolve. A few examples of common names for it are yellow water lily, beaver lily, alligator bonnet, spatterdock, and mooseroot – though it has over 40 different common names! 

This plant has large, floating heart-shaped leaves typical of water lilies. However, unlike most other water lilies, in shallow water it will also generate more erect “emergent” leaves which rise above the water. This allows this species to occupy a larger range of water depths than other water lilies.

A single flower is attached to a rising stem. Brandy bottle gets its name from its flowers, which are bright yellow and smell like brandy. The flowers are pollinated by insects, often flies who are attracted to the alcoholic scent. The seed pods rise slightly above the water’s surface. When fully ripe, the pods will actually burst and send seeds flying out in several directions, helping to disperse the sinking seeds away from the parent plant. The common name “spatterdock” is said to refer to the sound the seeds make as they plop into the water.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Brandy Bottle

 waterlily leaf beetle (Galerucella nymphaeae) sitting on lily pad leaf
Lilies like brandy bottle provide habitats for many creatures, such as the waterlily leaf beetle. Andreas Rusch, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brandy bottle has been used as food and medicine since prehistoric times by many cultures, owing to its wide distribution. The leaves, roots, and seeds are considered edible and can be a source of starches. The root is very bitter, but people have removed the bitterness by soaking in hot water for long periods of time. The cooked roots can be powdered and used in baking or to thicken soups. In Europe, there is also a popular drink made from steeping the flowers. The seeds can also be roasted and popped like popcorn.

Its roots have medicinal uses as well, especially as a mild anti-inflammatory. Some cultures have also used it to help treat infertility, hypertension, and blood diseases. Use is cautioned though, as large quantities may be toxic. It is currently playing an important role in research to treat and cure diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. The plant contains a large number of alkaloids of medical interest. Additionally, some cultures used the dried leaves or roots as a source of tannins for drying and curing leathers.

Brandy bottle is often found growing in beaver ponds. It provides habitat and cover to fish and other aquatic life such as insects and amphibians, as well as beavers.

The waterlily leaf beetle (Galerucella nymphaeae) spends its entire life cycle around the brandy bottle and feeds on it throughout all life stages. In high numbers, it can be a pest of the plant.

There is evidence that brandy bottle is one of the most beneficial plants for preventing the build-up of methane gas in stagnant ponds due to its complex vascular systems which help transport air to and from the surface. The exact reason for this adaptation is being studied, but if the stem is cut open you can see the large vessels which transport gases.

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Brandy Bottle Fact Sheet:
PLANT TYPE
Perennial aquatic plant
HARDINESS ZONES
USDA 4 – 10
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Full sun or partial shade
BLOOM COLOR
Yellow
BLOOM PERIOD
June – September
MAXIMUM GROWTH
5 m
PLANTING DEPTH
40 cm – 1 m
WATER QUALITY
pH 5 – 8

Brandy Bottle Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Fruit of the brandy bottle plant coming out of the water
When the brandy bottle plant is pollinated, its flower turns into a bottle-shaped seed pod. Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh 15:38, 1 October 2006 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brandy bottle grows quickly, and can grow to a maximum height of up to 5 m tall! Much of that height is underwater though, as it is a deep-water plant. The floating leaves and flowers are attached to long stems which are hidden underwater. The visible parts on the surface of the water generally grow to 60 cm tall. It can also spread up to 1.5 m wide, so it is best to plant it in a space that allows it lots of room to expand.

It won’t bloom until three years after germination as the plant grows and builds energy. After it has been pollinated, the flower turns into a bottle-shaped seed pod.


How to Plant Brandy Bottle

Brandy bottle plant in a pond with multiple yellow flowers
The best location to plant brandy bottle is in a large, deep pond of still or slow-moving water. Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It can be propagated by division, especially via the underwater root bulbs. Like most water lilies and lotuses, it grows best if the bulbs are not completely buried in the substrate, but only partially so.

Plant it in the springtime. It is best to plant in a large, deep pond of still or slow-moving water. Any soil type is fine. Plant it in water 60 cm – 2 m deep, and in soil at least 40 cm and up to 1 m deep.


How to Care For Brandy Bottle

A pond with leaves and flowers of the brandy bottle plant
The brandy bottle plant is hardy on its own, just trim off yellowed leaves when needed. Krzysztof Kundzicz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It can be fertilized once every spring, but if there are fish in your pond, it shouldn’t need fertilizer. Other than that, trim off yellowed leaves as needed and it is hardy on its own.


How to Winter Brandy Bottle

Brandy bottle is a perennial which will start to die back in autumn and resume growth in the following spring. Cut and remove old growth during the off-season to keep everything looking healthy.


Is Brandy Bottle Invasive or Toxic?

Brandy bottle does have the tendency to become invasive and crowd out other plants, due to its rhizomatous method of reproduction. This is especially true of areas which it is not native to, where it can out-compete native water lilies such as lotuses. If it does start to get out of hand, the best way to control it is to remove rhizomes out of the soil by hand.

The raw roots are said to be toxic, although evidence for this is unconfirmed.


Is Brandy Bottle Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Its leaves, roots, and seeds are edible, and many organisms are known to eat it, including insects (especially the water lily beetle mentioned above), aquatic snails, some fish, turtles, birds, and mammals such as porcupines, moose, and deer. It is also a favorite food of muskrats in North America.

Fish might actually protect your brandy bottle plant by feeding on herbivorous insects and snails which can cause the most damage.


Where to Buy Brandy Bottle & Seeds? (UK & US)

It can be ordered online, and will often come pre-potted in an aquatic basket or packed in peat moss.

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