Scientific name: Nelumbo (genus)
- Order: Proteales
- Family: Nelumbonaceae
- Genus: Nelumbo
The aquatic plant genus Nelumbo has two living species: Nelumbo nucifera and Nelumbo lutea. The genus Nelumbo is Latin but comes from the Sinhalese (language in Sri Lanka) word neḷum̆ba for “sacred bean,” referring to the edible quality of the lotus seed, or bean, and the divinity of the flower in many cultures. These lotuses live in wetlands, swamps, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.
Native to Asia, the pink lotus Nelumbo nucifera is also called the sacred lotus or Indian lotus, and it is a significant symbol of purity in China, India, and Vietnam. Cultivated in China for three thousand years, this sacred lotus is important in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Native to North and Central America, the pale yellow lotus Nelumbo lutea is also dubbed the American lotus. It was likely spread in North America by Native Americans.
The lotus is sometimes confused with the water lily, but the two are distant taxonomically. In addition, there is a genus called Lotus, which adds more confusion since it is unrelated to Nelumbo. The flowers of the genus Lotus look very different than those of the genus Nelumbo.
HOW IT GROWS
Roots grow in the soil at the bottom of a pond. The flat, oval-shaped leaves with wavy edges float on the surface of the pond or grow above the water’s surface from stems. Also raised above the water level by stems are the lotus flowers.
Traditionally, the Chinese eat lotus roots (rhizomes) and seeds because they have health benefits. The starchy rhizomes (藕 ǒu) can be stewed, steamed, or stir-fried. Besides being eaten as a vegetable, the rhizomes can be made into a flour. Dollops of lotus seed paste are also used as delicious filling for Chinese mooncakes in the mid-autumn festival each year. Furthermore, the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans make tea out of parts of the lotus plant. Lotus root tea and lotus leaf tea are some examples.
Have you ever seen water droplets roll off the leaves of a lotus? The droplets slide straight off instead of being absorbed because the skin of the lotus is water-repellant. This interesting quality of the lotus led to the coining of the term “lotus effect,” meaning the quality of being self-cleansing.
Although lotuses are already cherished for their beauty and holiness, a lotus called the bingdi lotus is especially treasured for having two lotus flowers on each stem instead of one. Here is a picture:
The last fun fact is that the Disney princess Tiana’s dress resembles an American lotus!