Lovely native Lotus

 

Lovely Native Lotus

Lately I have been reminded of how amazing life is in little ways I all too often take for granted. In fact the one moment that comes to mind today is the collection of memories from my recent trip to Point Pelee National Park. Around one last bend in the water at this beautiful Carolinian Forest, I paddled when my eyes were drawn to tall yellow blooms that popped up a foot out of the marsh. Up close and personal from a kayak, made this discovery breathtaking, and made me realize how experiencing things first hand instead of from a book really makes a difference.

 

 

 

The difference in me translates to a rush inside … the awe of discovering in the wild vs. just reading facts. Seeing and touching the large yellow water lily like flower in in its wild natural habitat and the photos I went away with, inspired  me to satisfy my curiosity  by investigating this mystery plant.

Before I knew it…after just a few strokes on the keyboard and there it was…the Yellow or American Lotus!  Officially called Nelumbo Lutea, this plant is native to parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Honduras and across the South Eastern U.S.  While no time frame was given, it seems that Native Americans or first Nations as they are called here carried the Lutea plants and seeds for food as they travelled north.

 

The northern end of the lovely native Lotus existing range is Pelee National park, where I experienced them. Considered rare here, extirpated in Delaware, threatened in New Jersey and threatened in Michigan, these beautiful flowers are yet another casualty to disappearing marshlands. In addition to marshlands, these aquatic plants are also found growing in lakes, swamps and ponds.

Lovely native Lotus bloom

 

 

Like many other aquatic plants, these float on the top while anchored by their roots in the deep muck at the bottom.  From these anchored roots, petioles or leave stems grow up to 2 metres in length , upwards through the water as they support the huge leaves circular leaves that float on the surface.

 

Although all parts of this plant act as part of a natural filtering system that helps clarify the water around it the circular leaves on top accomplish several function. First the leaves provide shade for its own roots as well as small aquatic animals. According to my research these leaves reach up to 43 centimetres in diameter, and certainly based on the size of my paddle, the ones I saw were at least this size if not larger.

 

 

When I first noticed the leaves from my kayak, the size blew me away. I did not realize they were circular and did not have the notch in them as do lily pads.  The petiole of the Lotus is attached underneath the leaf about the middle whereas lily leaves attach to one side creating sort of a rounded heart.

 

 

Lotus leaf overturned

 

 

Certainly watching the water bead up and roll across on the lotus leaves was fascinating, as water does not adhere to the leaves. Trying to capture the beads of water as they rolled back and forth was almost impossible, but of course I tried. While this fact did not seem radical at the time, further digging led me to data stating that the leaves have a slightly waxy surface which helps the small droplets form larger ones. This movement aided by nano scale groves and bumps that also help water movement that cleans the leaf surface.  Fascinating!

 

 

 

It seems then, that the Lovely native Lotus cleans the water through its roots, shades and keeps the water cool for itself and other tiny aquatic creatures, is a source of food and provides a lovely flower to hold the seed pods for propagation. Certainly all plants provide food sources for insects and sometimes even small animals and humans.

 

In this case, Native Americans ate the Lotus in many ways. The rhizomes or tubers were usually steamed or often boiled as were the new still curled leaves. The seeds were eaten raw in their early immature state or roasted and peeled once the harder coating formed on the outside. As these parts and the tubers are primarily carbohydrate based this plant and even the flower ground for the dry seed were an important part of their diet.

 

The large seeds produced from this plant are formed at the heart of this magnificent pale yellow flower bud. After the 18-28 cm flower closes its 22-25 petals for one last time, the somewhat globoid or ball shaped seed pod begins to mature form green to a dark grayish colour. In nature, these seeds are also then eaten by muskrats, beavers and porcupines, while many fall to the bottom as their marble to peanut size makes transportation by birds difficult. Almost impervious to water because of a thick dark outer shell, they can sit on the bottom awaiting germination for years.

 

 

lotus seed head

 

 

The sites below have a great deal of fascinating info on the seeds, plants and other aquatic plants.

www.floridata.com

www.victoria-adventure.org

The Yellow or American Lotus I have been describing is hardy to zone 4 unlike its Asian cousin Nelumbo Nucifera, which is tropical.  The Nucifera ranges in colour from white to dark pink as is the national flower of India and Vietnam. From a Wikipedia photo I find it amazing to learn they are the only two plants in this species and are a half a world apart! In many Asian countries these aquatic plants are commercially grown, providing blooms for the florist industry, while the seeds, stems and other plant parts are a food source that is even exported to markets here in Canada.

 

 

Sacred_lotus_Nelumbo_nucifera

 

 

From this genus of plants, composed only of these two geographically separated plants, there are now hybrids of different colours. Despite their resemblance to the water Lily family, they are not related, except perhaps by beautiful flowers rising from the water’s surface.

 

From the large saucer shaped leaves that roll water across their smooth top, or that cup skywards, through the scented flower stage, to their shower head shaped seed pod, this native beauties are amazing! Currently with hybridization and export of plant materials worldwide, blooming flowers of all  species,sizes and colours, are popular in backyard ponds and water features.

 

In addition to plants themselves, seeds to almost anything are also available on line. For the novice and even the experienced gardener directions on how to plant and even winterize lilies and other pond plants can be found on many sites.  Both Sheridan Nursery’s sites, as well as Canadian Gardening, are good  sources of data.

www.sheridannurseries.com

www.canadiangardening.com

 

 The general directions may apply many plants, but in my mind but nothing could rival as seeing the wild Yellow Lotus, freely blowing in the wind! Of course as an avid gardener I wish I could grow one in a pond in my yard but then again I don’t have one. Maybe a big barrel would do…no nix that! Maybe water gardens in the wild are more my style!

If inspiration has grabbed you, you have months to plan and dream about the ponds and aquatic plants in your future…good luck and happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park are amazing.Recently I  observed these pond plants, up close and personal as I was travelling throughout   South Western Ontario. In addition , I had the pleasure of seeing a wide variety of  garden, both traditional garden, an natural ones along and under waterways and many lovely pond plant. While to home gardeners, their own private space is treasured as a source of joy, peace and sometimes inspiration, to the adventurous the world of nature contains this and more.

Several weeks ago I saw native cone-flowers and other Carolinian woodland plants including poison ivy, wild grape vines and Queen Anne’s lace on Pelee Island. While marsh areas or wetlands both are part of  Canada’s Carolinian Eco system, on the island the marshlands have been dramatically reduced to a small section near the north east shoreline.

Pond plants of Point Pelee National park, on the other hand,have lots of room to grow  as, according to their literature, the park is approximately 80% marsh. This southern most point of mainland Canada also has a spit that juts in to Lake Erie similar to that of the island but is shorter in length. Composed of glacial sand, silt and gravel, the point here is approximately 4.5 Km wide at the north and approximately 7 km in length.

 

Point Pelee National Park

The point was named Point Pelee or Bare Point by the French explorers who discovered it, as the east side was rock and had no trees. After researching the history of the area, I realized my collected data would make up a book and that there are already many on it. However, from this information and a sign in the park itself, I learned that the park is designated as a protected area Category 2 by the international body IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).

After further reading about the IUCN’s mandate of conserving biodiversity, and information on the park’s wetlands,  I really began to think about the significance of the diversity there. Point Pelee National Park is not only a significant Carolinian forest tract, but the ponds and pond plants there are home to a valuable aquatic ecosystem.

 

Unfortunately as civilization progresses, all too often the wetlands of Ontario are being filled in . A number of animals and birds can adapt by moving their habitat and following other food sources, but the toads, frogs, fish and minnows just to name a few, cannot live without the water!  Even the pond bottoms are important as the muck there provides food and shelter for many tiny creatures and nutrition for the many pond plants.

Plants wherever they may be, provide interest for the observer, but they also provide food for the insects that feed on them. While  garden pests  at  home are annoying and I wish they would just vanish, I never wanted them to become extinct…victims of a disappearing habitat. Little did I know how my recent kayak trip in this national park would connect me with this reality.

 

Entrance to Point Pelee National Park

A friend and I drove past countless cottages that lined the shore of the point as we headed in to Pelee National Park with kayaks and gear, ready for a day of adventure. Under a glorious blue sky we watched birds soar and nest at a three storey bird observation tower while we prepared to launch. With hats, suntan lotion and life vest on, we seated ourselves comfortably and headed in to a narrow channel as we headed out to see pond plants of Pelee National Park.

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

 

 

Following the channel, which ran alongside a raised boardwalk at first, it wasn’t long before we spotted nature’s water gardens…pond plants galore! At the start there were a few white water lilies but as the water passage widened their number grew until white blooms were as far as the eye could see. In fact more flowering plants were seen than I had dared imagine

 

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park are amazing!Between the big lily pads of the white flowers whose many petals stuck out like little spikes, there were smaller bright yellow ones with curled up petals. Of course I got my handy, tiny camera out of my life vest pocket and began to snap away!Pond plants at Point Pelee National park are everywhere! Not to be outdone were the smaller but lovely blue/purple blooms of what I later identified as Pickerelweed. Before long the channel tightened and as we rounded the bend, large pink flowers appeared that looked like the mallow in my garden back home.

Pickerelweed flower

Wild Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

These tall blooms grew high among the tall cattails as part of a lovely marshland bouquet. The sounds of these plants swishing in the warm wind blowing and the call of overhead birds combined in  nature’s  symphony! While this day had been amazing so far, little did I know there were  more surprises in store, as  I floated along with the pond plants of  Point Pelee National Park.

Before leaving this view behind and turning back past the windsock  that flew high overhead by the main channel back, I decided to risk the small lake ahead. The wind had picked up as had the waves ,but with a little extra energy on the paddles it wasn’t long until I reached Nirvana! There in front of me were pale yellow flowers that rose over a foot out of the water and towered over the biggest floating leaves I had ever seen!

In fact, the leaves were so huge I needed a paddle blade in the picture for scale. Then there were the blossoms themselves, that blew in the breeze so I had to hold one tightly to admire and shoot up close. There were buds waiting to bloom, fully open flowers and an occasional seed head waiting to dry and drop its seeds to the bottom. What these pond plants were was a mystery to me, I hoped to solve later.

 

 

 

 

 

As the clouds rolled in and the waves picked up, my friend and I headed back to the safety of the shallow waters and so our aquatic garden tour had come to a close. Back at the hotel that night, I did some online research and found  all the information I had hoped for and more! The large yellow lily was in fact Nelumbo Lutea and is very rare in Canada!

Not only are the plants rare themselves, but they only flower in July and August with the flowers open from mid-morning to early afternoon. Wow I certainly timed it right! These gems, along with the more common white lily’s ( family Nymphaea ),and the tinier bright yellow Bullhead lily (Nuphar family) are just a few of the spectacular pond plants of Pelee National Park !

Bullhead Lily flower

 

White Water Lily

 

Certainly the need to protect the Carolinian ecosystem as a whole is important, and leaving the marshlands as unique sites of biodiversity is a must! Tempting as it was to take a dry seed head and try and grow in in water at home, I resisted.

Instead I donated extra funds to the park and hope to keep in touch with programmes and support they made need … and I might just be visiting an aquatic garden centre this coming spring, to stock up on my own pond plants!