This plant is common in shallow lakes and ponds throughout temperate and tropical Asia: Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Yunnan, Taiwan, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is the national flower of Bangladesh.
It is also found in northeastern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The hairy water lily is found both as a cultivated plant as well as in the wild. It prefers non-acidic waters and it does not tolerate temperatures below 15 °C.