Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 19, 2007

Notice the Lotus

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:57 am

  There’s nothing not to like about the American Lotus. It comes from a noble line of flowers that have inspired the imaginations and palettes of people throughout the world. If you are among those who have experienced the lotus this season, you know what I am talking about.  If you are currently sans your lotus moment, then perhaps I can be of assistance.\

  Normally I might attempt to prompt you into action by saying “Hurry, offer ends soon,” or “Get yours while supplies last – operators are standing by.” The fact is that the offer stands throughout the remainder of August and well into September, so there’s no rush. The lotus is a patient plant that takes it’s time budding, blooming and beckoning and is unique in the plant world for having such an extended season (mid July to mid September). In other words, it fits our modern day schedules.  I’ll introduce it to you here, but my true intention is to get you out to one of the region’s lotus beds for a first hand view.

  Extreme S.E. Michigan is fortunate enough to be within the range of this water plant, although we just barely make it. The center of the population is in the eastern U.S. from the Mississippi over to the Atlantic coast.  It requires shallow lake and river bays, so our lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie shore marshes provide for just such a need.  Unfortunately, the combination of being on the edge of existence here and choosing our most endangered habitat as a home, the lotus is listed as a threatened species in Michigan. You can’t pick it, but you can feast your eyes on it.

  Upon first inspection of an American Lotus bed, your first reaction is bound to be “holy cow” – or something like that. The huge leaves, some reaching three feet in diameter, tower above the water surface.  Equally as impressive are the hand sized flowers rising up on their own stalks. Take a look at a typical leaf and flower here.

  Each concave leaf is supported by a stout central stalk (see here). They worship the sky world with a deep green demeanor.  Rain drops collect in the center (see here) and form quick silver pools that roll about in the wind and are eventually tossed overboard.  Water does not cling to the surface due to thousands of tiny repellant hairs.  Swirling a bead of water around inside of a leaf, like a 49er panning for gold, will become one of your favorite seasonal task once you try it.

  Of course, the leaf is not there just for your entertainment.  It serves to collect energy from the sun and send it down to the stem, or tuber, deep within the mud. Air and gas transfer is important to a water plant, so these stems also act as straws.  Take a look at this cross section and you’ll see the neat arrangement of air tubes that begin in the leaf veins and continue down all the way into the tuber. I suppose you could say these are something like breathing tubes. This is not entirely accurate, but what the heck.

  Deep yellow when growing in the Deep South, our northern version of the lotus tends toward a yellow blushed white when producing flower petals. The flower bud is magnificant in and of itself (see here). , but the secret to this flower is the salt shaker thingy that projects out of the middle (look here) when it opens. This is the female portion (called the pistillate structure) where the seeds develop. Surrounding it are the anthers.  These particular anthers have already done their manly duty of producing pollen and are now laying back.  Soon they will fall off, as will the petals and sepals (the petal-like leaves backing the flower) and the pistil will be left alone to do her thing. 

  The final result of all this blooming is a shower head (see here).  Right now, the seed heads are developing their crop of acorn-sized seeds and over the course of the month will expand into flat topped cones replete with lunar craters. By the end of the season in late fall, these are all that will remain. They will break off and float flat side down to distribute their cargo over the marshy bottom.

  I alluded earlier to the fact that the American Lotus is part of a noble line of worldwide distribution and tastes. Our native lotus is pompously referred to as Nelumbo lutea. The “lutea” part refers to the yellow color.  “Nelumbo” is a Ceylonese word for – you guessed it – “Lotus.” You can call our native born product Yellow Lotus, Water Acorn, Water Chinquapin or Alligator Button, but there’s no denying its global family. There are a host of Asiatic lotuses that are nearly identical to our American form.

  In Asian cultures, the lotus is appreciated at many levels.  Every portion of the plant is eaten.  The tubers, or roots as they are called, are a basic dish in China and Japan (see here – and note the air passages that mimic those found on the stems).  They are usually fried or used as a primary ingredient in soup. The seeds are especially popular in southern China where they are roasted, boiled and converted to flour. Leaves serve as flavoring and wrappers for rice dishes (here are some for sale in a market). Even lotus stems and the dried flowers make their way into salads and onto plates next to steaming Mandarin Duck.

  Presently, you can do none of the above with our American Lotus, because it is protected.  Fortunately, there are plenty of Asiatic Lotus products out there to satisfy the culinary urges. American Indians have long used the lotus, however. From cutting and drying the roots for winter use, to roasting the seeds and pounding them into a sweet meal, this resource was not over looked.  I’m sure more than a few rattling seed heads were used by native children as playthings.

  It is an interesting aside to note that some thinkers believe that the northern and eastern distribution of the American Lotus is a product of prehistoric people to begin with. Natives may have brought lotus seeds and tubers with them to plant as a food resource – long before the advent of corn culture. Any way you look at it, people and lotuses are linked by a rich past and a promising future.

  Now, the choice is yours. If you’d like to see an American Lotus patch for yourself, travel over to Lake Erie Metropark or go to the end of Dunbar Road for a visual feast. There are no operators standing by, but I’m here if you’d like further directions.  Before you go, take a look at my Monet (or are it Renoir?) inspired view of a lotus bed for a little, well,……… inspiration.



  1. Hi Ger,

    Beautiful painting of the lotuses. I have it as my background on my computer screen.

    Sister Kath

    Comment by Kathy — August 20, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

  2. very nice site with some great post keep up the great work

    Comment by sam — November 25, 2008 @ 11:32 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress