Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER

Dotleaf Waterlily, White Water Lily or White Lotus, NYMPHAEA AMPLA, flower and pad

from the October 30, 2011 Newsletter issued from Mayan Beach Garden Inn 20 kms north of Mahahual, Quintana Roo, México
WATERLILIES FLOWERING

While crocodile watching this week I got the nice picture of the Dotleaf Waterlily shown above with those distinctive black dots on the undersides of the greenish sepals:

Dotleaf Waterlily, White Water Lily or White Lotus, NYMPHAEA AMPLA

from the July 10, 2011 Newsletter issued from written at Mayan Beach Garden Inn 20 kms north of Mahahual, Quintana Roo, México
SACRED MAYA FLOWER

During a bike ride last Sunday the road brought me close to several ponds and lakes. Among the most eye-catching plants at one of the ponds was the white-flowered waterlily shown above. In that picture, the leafless tangle in the background consists of branching aerial roots of the Red Mangrove. The open water is completely surrounded by Red Mangrove, which apparently finds the water lilies' water a little too deep.

I couldn't get close enough to the lilies for a good picture but a couple of flowers floated near enough to reveal field marks enabling their identification. Notice the crinkled leaf margins and -- barely visible -- lines of tiny black spots on the flowers' greenish sepals below:

Dotleaf Waterlily, White Water Lily or White Lotus, NYMPHAEA AMPLA, flowers

In the literature English names given for this species include Dotleaf Waterlily, White Water Lily and White Lotus. It's NYMPHAEA AMPLA.

And that interested me greatly, for back in the 1970s for a couple of dry seasons I served as naturalist for the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research, FLAAR, based in Guatemala City, Guatemala. We specialized in taking tourists with special interest in Maya archeology to very hard-to-reach Maya ruins deep in the rainforest of northern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, and on those trips we always were on the lookout for water lilies.

That's because the archeologist leading the tours had theories about ancient Maya shamanistic use of water lily flowers. And the water lily in question was our Nymphaea ampla. If you Google the keywords "sacred Maya flower" the first return should be a PDF document published by my former boss, Nicholas Hellmuth, entitled Sacred Maya Flower.

In that document you can see how Maya iconography apparently represents Nymphaea ampla in various religious contexts, the water lily occupying the zone between the Maya netherworld, under the water, and the world of humans beyond the water. Sometimes the water lily motif sprouts from the head of people portrayed in Maya art, maybe even with a fish in mid-air nibbling on the water lily. This, maybe, represents a shaman in contact with the spirit world, through the agency of the water lily, which may be mildly hallucinogenic.

Whatever the deal, last Sunday it was good to see lots of Nymphaea ampla in a little pond nearby. The species is very sensitive to environmental changes, having disappeared in many areas where the water became stirred up or polluted.

Nymphaea ampla is found from Texas south through Mexico, the West Indies and Central America into South America.