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!

 

 

 

 

Pelee Island Trip

Pelee Island trips can  be wonderful and defiinately an adventure as mentioned previously, when I  found poison ivy there. This noxious weed is only one among countless found on this quaint island. Certainly the entire island cannot be appreciated in one day, but I did see lovely woodlands, stunning beaches and heard many songbirds. In addition to being a calm, natural spot, I found it oddly exhilarating being at the southernmost tip of Canada.

 

Wikipedia Pelee Island Aerial

 

Pelee Island Trip

My Pelee Island trip began from Leamington Ontario, home of the Big Tomato Information booth and the largest number of greenhouses in Canada. Despite how much I enjoy Ketchup on fries, I spent no time viewing the area or its tomatoes before heading to the docks. There I boarded the Jimaan Ferry for a 1 hr. and 45 minute trip to the main dock on the island’s west side.

 

Pelee Island Ferry

The ferry sold a variety of items in their gift shop including several interesting books on Pelee as well as the standard nautical souvenirs. On the wall there was a topographical map of the surrounding area, so I got a better idea of how close we were to the U.S. and the number of islands that make up what is known as The West Lake Erie Islands.

 

These islands, regardless of their country of ownership, form what is called an Archipelago. This is the term for a chain or cluster of islands, which in this case support a Carolinian forest eco system. While I was familiar with Carolinian forests, as my cottage is in one such area, until I visited Pelee I had no idea of the range of these environs.

In fact, “Carolinian” itself is a term used to describe a life or vegetative zone in Eastern North America characterized by a predominance of deciduous trees. Over the years since the origin of this designation came in to use in 1859 by J.G. Cooper of the United States, its usage has changed. Now the term is primarily used in Canada, and referred to as Eastern Deciduous or Eastern Woodlands, in the U.S.

Carolinian Forest

The northern edge of the area encompassed is below an approximate line drawn between Toronto on Lake Ontario to Grand Bend on Lake Huron, with the southern extension in to the Carolinas. In this area are pockets of the fertile mixed wood plains, as seen on Pelee Island. The Great lakes modify the surrounding area allowing animals, birds and plant life to survive, that are seldom found in other areas of Canada.

Typical Carolinian forest; trees are a mix of Hickory, Black Walnut,Sycamore, Chestnuts, Oaks and the rarer Red Mulberry, Dwarf Hackberry, Tulip tree and Kentucky Coffee trees. Not surprisingly, Poison Ivy is one of the native vines for this area, while wildflowers, Swamp Rose Mallow, Tall Coreopsis,Wild Bergamot,wild Lupine and Yellow Lotus can also be found blowing in the meadows and wetlands.

 

Yellow Lotus

 

Pink Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique animals and reptiles are there as well. In fact the Island is home to the Gray Fox found only in one other location in Manitoba and a Blue Racer snake which is only found on Pelee. There are many more examples of wildlife unique to this area and island, many of which are now endangered species!

Unfortunately Carolinian forests are frequently near large populated areas of Ontario and then are at risk due to loss of wetlands, as cities grow. Even farmland expansion has a downside as it can destroy natural nesting and living areas. Certainly the balance of economy vs preservation of a natural eco system is quite delicate.

On Pelee Island, the farming has declined from 33 farms to less than 10 over the last twenty years as farmers’ retired and new machinery allowed larger tracts to be managed by individual farms. The population has declined as well. Around 1900 had almost 800 residents with 4 schools, 4 churches and 3 general stores. Certainly current transportation and recession issues have had an impact on the islands economy as there are only approximately 275 year round residents with one store, a post office, LCBO, bike rentals a few B&Bs and several restaurants.

As well Pelee Island Winery adds to the islands economy and provides another attraction for visitors. Fishing, boating, scenery and the annual Pheasant Hunt draw many tourists here and countless birders come each spring as migration patterns peak.

But  no Pelee Island Trip would be complete for me until I witnessed the peak …the  sandy one at the end of the island! As a gardener and lover of nature I certainly appreciated the lovely trees blowing in the wind and the birds heard high overhead but getting away was my main goal. In fact I was lookiing forward to leaving the city behind for some beach combing and a calmer atmosphere.

 

 

Beachcomber

Part of the calm I found was in the natural landscape, feeling the sand through my toes and hearing countless birds call from the shore. With the sun high overhead, beach combing was amazing as I headed to the end of Fish Point Park…to wave at the United States and the thousands of seagulls resting on the sandy finger that ends this lovely island.

 

 

Pelee Island was a joy to visit and I look forward to enjoying the Carolinian forest, friendliness of the residents and the lovely blooms of their gardens, in the near future…and of course walk the sandy shores and breath the fresh Lake Erie air!