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Rocky Mountain Pond Lily

Scientific Name:
Nuphar polysepala
Native Name(s):
  1. Klamath: Wō'-käs (Coville 1897); wokas (Barrett 1910)

Nuphar polysepala is an aquatic perennial herb. It's large, floating leaves are heart shaped with a rounded end. Leaves are dark green in color; 10 to 40 cm in length. Yellow flowers range in size from 5 to 10 cm. Flowers have 7 to 12 sepals and 10 to 20 petals, many yellow to purple stamen surround a single stigmatic disk. Fruits are fleshy swollen pods containing numerous seeds. Seeds are light green in color, turning a shiny light brown when mature and dry. Seeds range in size from 3 to 5 mm.

Starch granules
This species is starch deficient. No starch granules were observed in seeds.


Nuphar polysepala is found at elevations lower than 2500 m in ponds, slow streams, shallow lakes/lake margins, and marshes.


Nuphar polysepala occurs throughout the Intermountain West.


As food
Klamath: "Wō'-käs. The great yellow water lily, occurring at Wocus Bay and a few other places on Klamath Lake, and in endless amount in Klamath Marsh. The large mucilaginous seed pods are gathered in boats, the seeds extracted after some process of drying the pods, and then stored for use during the year. The common method of preparing the seeds for use is to roast them either in an open basket with live coals, or more commonly in recent years in an iron frying pan over a fire. When treated thus the seeds swell and crack their coats much after the manner of parched corn. The roasted seeds are commonly eaten dry without further preparation, tasting very much like popcorn, but sometimes they are ground into meal and made into a porridge or a bread...This is probably the most important farinaceous food of the Klamaths. They gather enormous quantities of it during the months of July and August, nearly all the old women of the tribe going to the marsh for the purpose. It is such a favorite food with the tribe that its use is likely never to be wholly given up." (Coville 1897:96)  

Klamath: "Among the most important natural features of this region are the great tracts of marshy land. These marshes are covered constantly with water from a few inches to several feet in depth. In these, particularly in Klamath marsh, and to a certain extent also among the Modoc, the yellow water-lily, Nymphia polysepala. Large areas of marsh are completely covered with this water-lily to the exclusion of almost everything else. The seeds of this plant, gathered and preserved in three different manners… form the staple article of food and thus correspond to acorns used over the greater part of California." (Barrett 1910:242)

Klamath: "In August and September families congregate to gather the wild water-lily seeds along the marshes." (Pearsall 1950:347)

Klamath: "The principle vegetable food of the Klamath is the see of the wild water-lily, known as wokas." (Pearsall 1950:348)   

Klamath: "Plentiful in area; in contrast to Klamath who still gather wokas to some extent, Achomawi (East) no longer "bother with them; people say now 'I'm not a bird.' "." (Voegelin 1942:177)

Distribution Map: