In the world of flowering aquatic plants, nothing beats a water lily or a lotus flower.
You probably are already aware of the similarities between water lilies and lotus plants, so let’s get down to the differences.
The biggest difference is that water lilies (Nymphaea species) leaves and flowers both float on the water’s surface while lotus (Nelumbo species) leaves and flowers are emergent, or rise above the water’s surface. There is one exception: tropical water lilies leaves float on the surface just like hardy lilies but their flowers rise above the surface of the water about 6-8 inches.
A standard lotus will eventually grow to have it’s leaves and flowers 4-6 ft. above the water, maybe less in a container where their size is more controlled. Dwarf varieties will be just a few inches above the water. Lotus plants will also need more fertilizer than water lilies.
Both water lilies and lotus have dwarf varieties which are perfect for container patio ponds, and in some cases small enough for patio tabletop bowls.
I found this short but awesome YouTube video on lotus and water lilies.
Hardy Water Lilies: (Nymphaea)
Tropical Water Lilies: