10 Shade Tolerant Water Lilies 2022 [Updated]


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The Most Shade Tolerant Water Lilies 2022 [Updated]

Water lilies
Water lilies with yellow or apricot flowers are more likely to be shade-tolerant. Josh Donohue / CC BY 2.0

Water lilies, a group of aquatic perennials belonging to the Nymphaea genus, are extremely popular freshwater plants due to their floating features. Their waxy leaves, called lily pads, are equipped with air spaces that allow them to remain afloat. These are borne on submerged stalks, which are attached to rooted rhizomes in bottom substrates. Their solitary blooms have a light and ephemeral quality to them as they add stunning color to the water’s surface.

These flowering plants tend to grow best under full sunlight, as exposure encourages the production of blooms and enhances the color of the leaves. Most types require at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. This particular requirement may be quite difficult to meet, particularly in ponds that are situated in partially shaded gardens. While the shade benefits pond inhabitants and helps keep the water cool, it may inhibit plant growth.

Fortunately, some types of hardy water lilies are able to persist under low sun exposure. However, although they are able to grow in partial shade, they will still require at least 3 – 4 hours of sunlight per day to produce vibrant blooms. Varieties with yellow- to apricot-colored flowers are more likely to tolerate shade. Grow them alongside other shade-tolerant aquatic plants for maximum impact.


1) Golden cup (Nymphaea ‘Marliacea Chromatella’)

Nymphaea 'Marliacea Chromatella'
Golden cup is a stunning ornamental water lily variety that can thrive with a minimum of 3 hours of sunlight a day. 阿橋 HQ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Latour-Marliac hybrid

Synonymous with Nymphaea ‘Chromatella’ and ‘Tuberosa Flavescens’, this stunning variety is able to thrive with a minimum of 3 hours of sunlight per day. It is hardy to USDA zones 4 – 10, in which its bloom period lasts from May to early fall. It can be propagated using its rhizomes, which should be planted in a horizontal orientation in submerged pots or directly into the pond benthos. These are able to survive through winter as long as the pond bottom remains free of ice.

The golden cup is a sterile water lily grown exclusively for ornamental purposes. It is distinguished by its olive-green leaves, which are marked with randomly distributed purple markings. These give the leaves an attractively mottled appearance. The cup-shaped inflorescences expand to a full width of 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) and may have as many as 7 rows of pale-yellow petals. At the center of each is a bright clump of orange stamens.

‘Marliacea Chromatella’ is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It can be cultivated in practically any type of outdoor water feature that can accommodate its spread and provide a depth of at least 6 inches (15 cm). Surface features tend to have a maximum height of around 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm), and the large leaves may eventually cover a spread of up to 5 feet (1.52 m). Mature specimens can last for up to 10 years in optimal conditions.


2) Nymphaea ‘Colorado’

Nymphaea 'Colorado'
Nymphaea ‘Colorado’ has gorgeous salmon-colored blooms and can tolerate partial shade. istolethetv / CC BY 2.0

Dr. Kirk Strawn hybrid

The ‘Colorado’ variety is an incredibly hardy hybrid between Nymphaea mexicana and Nymphaea ‘Louis Villemarette’. First created in 1994, this beautiful water lily has won the hearts of many collectors due to its salmon-colored blooms. Though they arise as solitary inflorescences on separate stalks, they usually bloom simultaneously to produce an irresistible and fragrant display.  The petals surround seemingly luminescent, golden-colored stamens.

A vigorous grower, Nymphaea ‘Colorado’ is able to tolerate partial shade as long as all other conditions are optimized. It can be planted at a depth of 6 – 36 inches (15 – 91 cm) of water, though it should be kept in a shallow area until its rhizomes have become fully established. When it is fed throughout its growth season, it may continue to produce blooms even after its foliage has died back. It is thus known for having one of the longest flowering seasons of all hardy water lilies.

The leaves of this hybrid are attractions in themselves as they have burgundy-colored speckles. These disappear as the leaves age, however, leaving an alluring shade of olive green. ‘Colorado’ is best grown in medium to large-sized ponds, as a single plant may have a surface spread of around 6 feet (1.82 m) wide.


3) Nymphaea ‘Sioux’

Nymphaea 'Sioux'
The ‘Sioux’ variety is particularly interesting because its blooms change color over time. Usien, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Latour-Marliac hybrid

With blooms that change in color over time, the ‘Sioux’ hybrid is a bit of an anomaly among popular water lilies. Young flowers initially possess yellow-colored petals. By the second or third day, their shade deepens to a blush-like apricot tone. This further intensifies into copper-red as the flower begins to die back. In optimal conditions, the diurnal flowers close as evening approaches, eventually re-opening each morning for up to 5 days.

‘Sioux’ leaves have a relatively large surface area, with the capacity to expand up to 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. They are speckled with tiny purple or maroon-colored markings. Their muted green color allows the star-shaped blooms to stand out. Due to the large leaves, this hybrid is also best for medium ponds with full to partial sun exposure.

‘Sioux’ should be cultivated in relatively undisturbed water. It should be rooted in pots or containers with a minimum volume of 2 gallons. The container should primarily be placed at a depth of around 6 inches (15 cm). It may gradually be moved to a maximum depth of 20 inches (51 cm).


4) Nymphaea ‘Hermine’

Nymphaea 'Hermine'
‘Hermine’ has white, star-shaped blooms that emit a mild fragrance. David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Latour-Marliac hybrid

‘Hermine’ is a day-blooming hybrid that has been around for more than a century. First developed in 1912, it is a vigorous plant with a tolerance for partial shade conditions. Synonymous with Nymphaea ‘Albatross’, it produces starkly white, star-shaped blooms from early summer to fall. The blooms emit a mild fragrance from their conspicuously colored stamens. Bright yellow to gold, these stand out amidst a crown of crisp petals.

As this hybrid spreads to a full width of about 30 inches (76 cm), it is suitable for small- to medium-sized water features. Its dynamic blooms look fantastic on a backdrop of its waxy, heart-shaped foliage, which is a pleasant shade of olive green. They are remarkably beneficial in ponds as they provide a landing spot for thirsty insects, a perfect place to bask for small amphibians, as well as shade for underwater creatures.

This Nymphaea’s capacity to spread is highest under full sun exposure, though it should manage to produce healthy leaves and blooms with a few hours of direct sunlight per day. It is more likely to thrive in relatively still water, so avoid placing its pots close to a pump, waterfall, or fountain. 


5) Nymphaea ‘James Brydon’

Nymphaea 'James Brydon'
‘James Brydon’ isn’t just a great ornamental plant; it’s also one of the most shade-tolerant water lily varieties! C T Johansson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dreer hybrid

This hardy water lily is another recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It is one of the most shade-tolerant varieties of Nymphaea, capable of surviving in spots that receive just 2 – 3 hours of sun per day. It is hardy to USDA zones 3 – 10, where its stunning blooms may attract a wide variety of butterflies. Both its flowers and leaves possess favorable ornamental qualities.

The blooms, which are known for being showy, are cup-shaped and vividly colored. The delicate petals are deep pink to carmine red, whereas the stamens are deep orange at the base and yellow toward their tips. Opening early in the morning and routinely closing at night, blooms can last for as long as 5 days. They emit a scent that has been likened to ripe apples.

The attractive leaves expand to about 8 inches (20 cm) across and are a lovely, bronzy shade of green. Some leaves may possess subtly purple spots. Each one naturally turns yellow in the course of 4-6 weeks, after which they should be removed. This hybrid is appropriate for cultivation in practically all types of ponds, though shoots may need to be cut back in small ponds.  


6) Nymphaea ‘Comanche’

Nymphaea 'Comanche'
Nymphaea ‘Comanche’ is a great choice for smaller ponds thanks to its moderate growth rate. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Latour-Marliac hybrid

Nymphaea ‘Comanche’ produces showy flowers that change color as they become spent. As it comes into bloom, its petals are initially a vibrant shade of yellow. Over time, they become an increasingly deeper shade of orange, pink, or maroon.  A reverse phenomenon occurs in the leaves, as they first arise as burgundy to purple, gradually lightening to a deep green.

Even the shape of the blooms tends to change over the course of a few days, as their petals expand. The solitary, young flowers are cup-shaped, while the oldest ones are distinctly star-shaped. This variation of colors and floral shape provides added interest through the course of the bloom period, which lasts from June to September.

In cultivation for more than a century, this hybrid is suitable for small ponds as it has a moderate growth rate. Well-established colonies require minimal maintenance, apart from the occasional removal of spent flowers and leaves. Full sun exposure is preferred, but shade is also tolerated as long as the foliage remains frost-free and receives around 3 – 4 hours of direct sun per day.


7) Nymphaea ‘Joey Tomocik’

Nymphaea 'Joey Tomocik'
The bright yellow blooms of ‘Joey Tomocik’ add vibrance to any pond. Ron Cogswell / CC BY 2.0

Dr. Kirk Strawn hybrid

If you’re after a water lily with yellow blooms, the ‘Joey Tomocik’ hybrid would certainly meet expectations. Its lemon-yellow petals are so vibrant that they make those of other yellow lilies appear quite pale. Blooming generously from June to September, it attracts many pollinators and adds vibrance to the pond’s surface. Moreover, the blooms are remarkably fragrant!

A hybrid between N. odorata and N. mexicana, this variety was produced in 1993. It has since become extremely popular, not only for its blooms but also for its emerald green leaves. These possess some variegation, giving them a slightly dappled overall appearance. Their blotches come in various shades and intensities of maroon.

Tolerant of partial shade, ‘Joey Tomocik’ may spread to cover 6 feet (1.8 m) of pond surface. It may require additional fertilizer during the warmest months of the year. This should enhance flowering rates and prolong the bloom period. Mature specimens can tolerate a depth of up to 40 inches (1 m), making them suitable for large ponds.


8) Nymphaea ‘Atropurpurea’

Nymphaea 'Atropurpurea'
‘Atropurpurea’ blooms appear in the summer and can last to fall, though they may not survive as long in USDA zones 8 and up. Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

Latour-Marliac hybrid

One of the most popular water lily cultivars, the ‘Atropurpurea’ boasts a wealth of eye-catching features. Monet himself ordered a specimen of this very cultivar in 1904, just 3 years after it was developed by a famous French nursery for hybrid water lilies, Latour-Marliac. Though it favors full sun conditions, shaded ponds need not be deprived of its colors. It may even thrive in partial shade as its blooms wilt under intense heat.

‘Atropurpurea’ blossoms are bowl- to star-shaped depending on their maturity. Capable of lasting for several days, they expand to a full width of about 7 – 8 inches (18 – 20 cm). Their petals look like works of art as they display a gradient of light to deep red pigments. These surround a delicate clump of highly visible stamens, which are bright yellow to orange in comparison. The heart-shaped leaves, which can grow as large as a plate (up to 10 inches or 25 cm), start off as deep purple and eventually become dark green.

This hybrid is known for being a prolific bloomer from summer to fall, though the blooms are less likely to last in hardiness zones 8 and up. As it can tolerate a depth of up to 3 feet (91 cm), it is suitable for medium to large-sized ponds. Mature specimens may have a full width of about 4 feet (120 cm).


9) Nymphaea ‘Denver’

Nymphaea 'Denver'
The lush white blooms of Nymphaea ‘Denver’ look great both in the sun and in the shade. wundoroo / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Dr. Kirk Strawn hybrid

Developed in 1997, the ‘Denver’ hybrid quickly became a favorite of its very own hybridizer. Strawn favored its lush white blooms, which elegantly stand out above a mat of darker colored foliage. The flowers may appear to glow throughout the day, seemingly taking in the sun’s rays. They aren’t just spectacular under full sun, however, as the immaculately white petals and golden stamens look flawless in shade.

This hardy Nymphaea is a must-have in practically any type of pond as its ornamental appeal is complemented by its ecological benefits. Its long-lasting bloom period draws a wealth of pollinators from summer to fall, enhancing the biological diversity of the pond’s surface. The leaves, which are deep green and subtly tinged red along their edges, serve as protective structures for many pond organisms.

Suitable for small to medium-sized ponds, ‘Denver’ lilies prefer a depth of 6 – 24 inches (15 – 61 cm). Fertilization during their growth period may be necessary to encourage continuous blooms, especially under minimal sun exposure. Mature plants eventually produce offsets, which are great for summer propagation.


10) Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’

Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola'
‘Pygmaea Helvola’ is considered a miniature water lily as its leaves only reach a maximum width of 4 inches (10 cm)! coniferconifer from japan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Latour-Marliac hybrid

If your shaded water feature is much too small to accommodate the considerably large leaves of most water lilies, don’t lose hope! The ‘Pygmaea Helvola’ hybrid is textbook perfect for smaller setups. With leaves that grow to a maximum width of just 4 inches (10 cm), it is considered a miniature water lily. What it lacks in size, it certainly doesn’t lack in appeal.

A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, the smallest of all Nymphaea hybrids produces blooms that can easily be held in between two fingers. Cup-shaped, they expand to a full spread of just 2 inches (5 cm) across. The entire plant has a maximum spread of just 2 feet (61 cm) in comparison. Fragrant, long-lasting, and diurnal, the flowers are set apart by their lemon-yellow petals and their golden stamens.

In the absence of flowers, this dwarf hybrid still retains its appeal due to its speckled foliage. The round, dark green leaves are generously marked with purple blotches. Lasting for up to 6 weeks at a time, they thrive best in still water and in ambient conditions of USDA hardiness zones 4 – 10.

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