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