This easily identifiable perennial grows in nutrient poor lochs and ponds throughout the uplands of Scotland, but is not seen in Orkney. In the Northwest the flowers are often smaller than in the rest of Scotland.
Large round floating leaves rest on the surface of the water above a well-adapted underwater stem which can grow to up to 3 meters in height to reach the surface if necessary. The leaves are 10 to 30cm in diameter, glabrous and dark glossy green on top, while often reddish coloured on the underside. The edges are unbroken with the leaf base forming a deep cleft where it meets the stem.
The flowers are few, and invariably white and scented. Between 10 and 20cm across they have a cup-shaped corolla with 20 to 25 large spirally arranged petals. 4 spear-shaped sepals support the flower. These are whitish above and olive-green below.
Many yellowish stamens are arranged in the centre of the flower and also many stigmas which form radiating lines on top of the ovary. The ovary develops into a spongy berry-like capsule. Flowers float on the surface, but during seeding the flower-stalk curls and drags the calyx underwater where the seed head develops.
Another Yellow Waterlily (Nuphar lutea) is found less commonly in the South of Scotland.