Lily pads are essential to the ecosystem of this black water creek. There are two main species, the fragrant white water lily and the yellow water bonnet or spadderdock. The fragrant white water lilies have nearly perfectly shaped round pads that look like a pie with a small slice taken out.  Spadderdocks have nearly heart-shaped pads. As the pads sprout and grow from beneath the surface they are red from lack of chlorophyll. If the pad makes it to the surface and insects don’t completely gobble them up, the plants go to the energy expense of pushing out their chlorophyll into the pads, which turns them green.

The lilies attract a number of different insects from above and fish and aquatic insects from below. The pads provide shelter and food. In particular, larvae of moths dig down into the core of their long submerged stems. There the larvae thrive and grow. However most eventually become food for a tiny spring warbler. The male Prothonotary Warbler is bright yellow gold while his mate is predictably a muted green and yellow blend. Together they nurture their chicks on the plump larvae harbored inside the lily pads stems. If you are quiet enough, you may be treated to seeing a tiny frog resting on a lily pad.

Cathy J. Sakas

The Coastal Naturalist