558 Nelumbo luteaCommon Names: American lotus, yellow lotus, water-chinquapin Family: Nelumbonaceae (lotus Family)
American lotus is a perennial water plant that has large, spongy rootstocks (actually underground stems, called rhizomes) in the mud beneath water as much as 8 ft (2.4 m)deep. Petioles (leaf stems) arise from the rhizomes and each supports a single round leaf up to 2 ft (0.6 m) or more in diameter. The petiole attaches to the underside of the leaf at its center and the leaf has no cleft as in waterlilies. The leaves may float flat on the surface or, if the water is lower, they stand above the water and the margins tend to rise above the center, creating a funnel-like effect. The leaves are dull-satiny bluish green on top and pale green with prominent veins underneath. The showy pale yellow flowers have many sepals and petals and are borne singly on long, stiff stalks that arise directly from the rhizomes. The flowers are about 10 in (25 cm) in diameter and stand above the leaves. The distinctive flat-topped seed pods look like showerheads and are often used in dried flower arrangements. The cultivar 'Flavescens' has leaves with a red spot in the center and smaller, more numerous flowers. 'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum' has larger flowers that start out pink and gradually change to yellow over several days.
The only other species in the genus is the pink-flowered sacred lotus, N. nucifera, native to the Old World, and widely cultivated as an ornamental in water gardens. There are many cultivars of this larger, more fragrant lotus.
Note that some references (especially older ones) place American lotus in the waterlily family, Nymphaeaceae. Lotus now has its own family Nelumbonaceae. In addition to the scientific synonym Nelumbo pentapetala, a number of common names, many of native American origin, are used to identify this species. Among them are: American lotus, yellow lotus, water-chinquapin, duck acorn, lotus lily, yellow Nelumbo, yanquapin, wonkapin, and pond nuts.
American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, occurs in quiet waters in ponds, lakes and the edges of slow moving streams and rivers from Iowa and Minnesota to Ontario and New York and south to Oklahoma, East Texas and Florida. It also occurs in the West Indies and Central America and south to Columbia.
CultureLight: Full sun. Moisture: Lotus is rooted under water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. As long as the rootstocks do not freeze, lotus is hardy to Zone 4. Propagation: Seeds should be scarified before planting in containers filled with rich loam under about 2 in (5 cm) of water when the temperature is at least 75ºF (24ºC). Gradually deepen the water or lower the container as the plant grows. Another method is to pack a seed in a wad of clay and toss into the pond. Lotus also can be propagated vegetatively by dividing the rhizomes.
Grow lotus in large containers of enriched loam in outdoor pools, or plant directly in the ground beneath the water. Harvest the dried seed pods for decorative arrangements.
Although not the lotus of Tennyson's Lotus-eaters (that apparently was the fruit of a dry land shrub), American lotus produces the largest flower of any plant in North America (with Magnolia grandiflora and Hibiscus grandiflora close behind). American lotus was an important food for Native Americans. The rhizomes produce starchy tubers that can be baked like sweet potatoes and are said to be delicious. The young leaves, before they unroll, can be steamed or boiled like spinach. The immature seeds can be eaten raw and the mature seeds can be shelled and the kernels roasted and eaten like nuts or ground into flour.
When fishing, I love to come upon a quiet cove filled with lotus because I know I can cast my lure amongst the floating leaves and not worry about getting hung up in the V-shaped cleft that water lilies use to warn fish of my presence.
Steve Christman 07/13/99 updated 8/23/03, 2/26/05