Texas is home to four native species of water lily. Nymphaea ampla, though common in Mexico and the Caribbean, is quite rare, while N. odorata, a white lily that floats on the water’s surface, and N. elegans, the so-called blue water lily, are relatively common.
Our fourth lily is uncommon enough that I’d never seen one until I discovered a pair blooming in a pond at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. The Spanish name for Nymphaea mexicana — lampazo amarillo, or yellow water lily — brings to mind the well-known Texas city. According to the Texas State Historical Association:
The settlement was originally called Oneida but was by majority consent renamed Amarillo after the nearby lake and creek. These natural features had been named by New Mexican traders and pastores, probably for the yellow soil along the creek banks or the yellow wildflowers that were abundant during the spring and summer.
Charles F. Rudolph, editor of the Tascosa Pioneer, blamed the [Fort Worth and Denver City Railway] employees for ignoring the word’s Spanish pronunciation; in 1888 he prophetically stated, “Never again will it be Ah-mah-ree-yoh.” Most of the town’s first houses were painted yellow in commemoration of the name change.
Unfortunately, when the Texas Legislature designated an official state water lily in 2011, it chose a cross between Nymphaea mexicana and another cultivar known as Nymphaea ‘Pink Starlet’ rather than one of our natives. Nymphaea ‘Texas Dawn,’ created by Ken Landon in 1985, is a lovely flower, but like the designation of the crape myrtle as our official state shrub, its selection clearly was influenced by factors other than its inherent beauty.
No matter. Lampazo amarillo will be blooming by morning, and it’s that amarillo that’s on my mind.