The Lotus: Know It and Grow It was originally written as a booklet for the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society (IWGS) in 2007. (In 2008 it was reprinted as a paperback book). We wrote about the lotus because of our love for Nelumbo and because we’ve spent incalculable hours answering questions about them. People ask about dividing the tubers, why their lotus won’t bloom, where the lotus position came from, and if it’s true that 2000 year old seeds grew successfully – inquiring minds wanted to know.
Our goal for the book was to create an informative yet beautiful resource for both lotus experts and admirers, packing as much as possible into 52 pages. We wrote about how to grow and care for the lotus, along with information about their great cultural and other significance. The Lotus was designed to engage people who want to look at pretty pictures, as well as those who want practical help.
We have been delighted with response to our book. Like the lotus plant, it has attracted viewers from all walks of life and all parts of the globe. (It will soon be available in Korean.) We have enjoyed showing off the lotus to current admirers while introducing it to those not yet captivated by its charms. The following excerpts from The Lotus: Know It and Grow It will teach you a bit about this amazing plant and give you a taste of the book. For more information please visit www.AboutTheLotus.com.
All Lotuses are not Nelumbos
Throughout mythology and history the words describing waterlilies and lotuses have been used interchangeably. This is still the case in many foreign languages, where the words “waterlily” and “lotus” can mean either Nymphaea or Nelumbo, or both. The most common aquatic confusions are the “Blue Lotus” from Ancient Egypt that refers to the blue waterlily, Nymphaea caerulea; the “Egyptian Lotus” that is Nymphaea lotus, a white night bloomer; and the subgenus of Nymphaea called Lotos. The precise use of lotus for aquatic plants designates the Nelumbo family, which includes two species and many hundreds of cultivars.
Relationship of Lotuses to Waterlilies
There are obvious visual differences between Nymphaea and Nelumbo: the leaf shape, seed pod formation, and overall stature. But some taxonomists had previously classified lotus as a waterlily, stirring up quite a bit of controversy. Recent DNA testing has supported that Nelumbo be placed in its own family, separate from Nymphaeaceae.
The taxonomy for lotus is:
SpeciesNelumbo lutea Willd.
SpeciesNelumbo nucifera Gaertn.
Cultivar exampleNelumbo ‘Chawan Basu’
Propagation from Seeds
Viable lotus seeds are very hard, round, and smooth; N. nucifera are more oval than N. lutea. The infertile seeds will crumble under pressure or have wrinkles like raisins. The hard seed coating is composed of two layers; the outside is dark brown while the inside is light brown. The seed coating needs to be scarified in order for water to penetrate for germination. If only a few seeds are to be germinated a hard file or medium grade sandpaper and a pair of pliers will do. Otherwise a Dremel tool with a medium sanding bit comes in handy. Hold the seed firmly in the pliers and sand the outer coating enough to expose the lighter brown inner coating. Sanding to the cream color will cause damage to the cotyledon, which can expose the seed to fungal infection. (Note: When using a Dremel tool, the seeds become extremely hot. Take caution not to touch them until they have cooled.)
Once the seed coats have been broken, place the seeds in a glass jar of water in a warm sunny location. If the water becomes stagnant or cloudy, clean the jar and replace with warm clean water as necessary. In a day or two the normal swelling of the seeds will occur. According to Perry Slocum, the best time to germinate lotus seeds in North America is the first week of May and no later than the 10th. Although his information had no scientific standing, he swore by it. He noted the damping off of seedlings was much lower when germination occurred at that time of year. Generally speaking anytime in early spring is acceptable for seed germination.
Nelumbo is equally happy in or out of the water garden. As long as the lotus’ basic growing conditions are met, it can pop up amid perennials in the border garden in
a buried stock tank or sit above the soil in an upscale or complementary pot. Lotus is suitable to any water-holding container, provided there is adequate depth and diameter for soil and a suitable water reservoir. The containers can be buried so the lotus appears to be growing at ground level, or they can be displayed above ground.
Above ground, any generously sized decorative pot that holds water will suffice. For non-waterproof containers, insert a pot that is waterproof. If the container is too tall and narrow the lotus may be planted in a plastic pot that is supported at a more appropriate depth. Lotuses grown in containers are low maintenance, versatile, charming, and often a stunning focal point on a deck, patio, or entryway.
101 Other Uses
The lotus has amazed and baffled people for ages, so it is to be expected that science will try to unlock some of the plant’s mysteries. Analyses have been done to discover and quantify all aspects of the Nelumbo, from its chemical compounds to its gaseous transmissions to the mathematical relationships of its seed pods to Japanese design. It is no surprise to learn that the lotus is considered one of the most widely researched plants. Here are a few examples of some studies and applications of the findings.
The natural cleaning properties of lotus leaves enable Nelumbo to grow in muddy areas yet remain spotless. Botanists, chemists, and nanotechnologists have extensively studied this self-cleaning property. They determined that the microscopic structure and surface chemistry keep the leaves from getting wet. They also allow droplets of water to envelop contaminants and roll them off the leaf, leaving behind a clean surface. This trait has been called the “lotus effect,” a name that has even been registered in some countries.
Material scientists have been hard at work imitating this structure so the self-cleaning property can be incorporated into products or onto their surfaces. Applications are as wide reaching as roof tiles, house paint, metal surfaces, glass greenhouse panels, and hospital or other garments. Some products are already on the market with work continuing to develop more. In times past, the lotus effect resulted in Nelumbo becoming a symbol for purity. Today it spurs technological breakthroughs and patents.
Historically the Nelumbo has been at the root of spiritual beliefs in the East and West. The lotus has always held a symbolic importance according to folklore, legend, and early writings, especially in Hinduism and Buddhism. As a result, lotus blossoms embellish ancient relics, statuary, tombs, burial grounds, and temples of worship. This profound foundation has helped shape many ideas about the lotus in modern cultures.
Today Nelumbo’s cultural significance remains clearly evident as part of various belief systems and religious ceremonies. The deep rich history of lotus is imprinted and celebrated the world over. This plant is so highly regarded and cherished that it is used in or on virtually any object, from everyday household items to buildings. It continues to provide unwavering inspiration to worshipers and artists around the world.
“The lotus flower holds a special place for us because it symbolizes our struggle in this world. It is born in the still waters of the pond underneath the mud, and, when the time comes, it emerges. It grows out of the water and straight toward the sky, opening its petals in the rays of warm sunlight, revealing its beauty and sharing its fragrance with the world, leaving the mud far behind. Even its leaves are water resistant, as the flower reaches toward the sky, somehow existing as a part of its environment, and separate from it at the same time.” The Buu Mon Buddhist Temple on the significance of lotus in Buddhism
About the Authors
Paula Biles was diagnosed at an early age with CPO (chronic plant obsession) and after graduate school the condition became severe. The constant compulsion to have growing leaves and muddy hands led to an obvious treatment — water gardening.
Her therapy involved a steady dose of teaching and writing about water gardens and aquatics. Rehabilitation was slow at first, but before long she was lecturing, her articles and photographs were published, plus she was speaking before local and national groups — the perfect remedy for this affliction.
The last components of her successful treatment were to establish a local pond club, work as managing editor of Pondkeeper Magazine (now Pond Biz Magazine), and serve as executive director of the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society (IWGS), then travel to the Amazon
Paula is married and lives in Bradenton, Florida, where thanks to water gardening, her disease is now in remission.
On a more formal note, Paula belongs to the Garden Writers Association and has been a regular columnist for numerous hobbyist and trade magazines, including KOI USA, Ponds & Gardens, Nursery Retailer, and Garden Center. Her articles and photographs have appeared countless times in water garden magazines, newspapers, books, and online.
As a child, Kelly Billing was inspired to garden by her mother, who taught her plant identification during long walks in the woods. This love of nature and captivation with plants and flowers has remained a constant in her life, and now she is instilling it in her own children.
Edible plants and those with a history are of particular interest. Lotus is her favorite since it is one of the world’s most researched plants and its magical wonder has yet to be fully discovered.
Kelly has worked for over twenty years as the Nursery Manager for Maryland Aquatic Nurseries, Inc. (Jarrettsville, MD). She is co-author of the Water Gardener’s Bible (Rodale, 2008) and a regular columnist for Pond & Garden Lifestyle (now Pond Biz Magazine). She also writes for other water gardening publications.
Kelly speaks often to nursery associations, horticultural societies, garden centers, and garden clubs. She is passionate about the water gardening industry and enjoys sharing her knowledge, especially with children.
Some of the many awards Kelly has won include the 2000 Honor Award for serving as a Director on the Maryland Nurserymen’s Association Board, the 2002 Frog Award from the Garden Pond Promotional Alliance, and the IWGS 2004 Certificate of Appreciation for her efforts on the collection and dissemination of invasive aquatic plant information.
The authors can be reached at pods@AboutTheLotus.com or through K & P Projects’ website – www.AboutTheLotus.com