Interesting Facts About the Lotus Plant - Nelumbo nucifera
The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is an herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the genus Nelumbo and family Nelumbonaceae. It also referred to as sacred lotus, Indian lotus, and sacred waterlily. It can be found growing in India, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Australia.
The lotus flower is sacred in India and China. In eastern cultures, the lotus symbolizes spiritual enlightenment and rebirth. In Buddhism, the lotus is associated with enlightenment. The artforms in Hinduism and Buddhism use the lotus as a pedestal for divine figures.
The lotus flower is the earliest occurring angiosperm in the world. During the Ice Age, most plants in the northern hemisphere became extinct but the lotus survived. Lotus flowers are known as living fossils.
Description of the Lotus Plant
The lotus plant is an aquatic herbaceous perennial plant. It belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae. Native to Asia it can grow to a height of 3 – 6 feet and a spread of 3 – 4 feet. The flowers are pink or white in color and bloom between June to July.
The lotus plant grows in shallow muddy waters rooted to the soil by thick rhizomes with fibrous roots. It produces leaves and flowers directly from the root system.
The leaf of the lotus is rounded, cupped upward and is found floating on water. The margins of the leaf are smooth and wavy. The leaf is depressed in the middle and connected with the petiole at this point.
The leaf has veins radiating from the center towards the margin of the leaf. As they approach the margin of the leaf, the veins fork. The petiole (leaf stalk) is light green, hairless and has hollow chambers inside that keep the petiole erect and convey oxygen to the root system.
The leaves have a waxy coating that prevents the leaf from becoming wet and submerging in water. The waxy coating repels water droplets. Due to the repelling effect, the water droplets roll off the surface of the leaf. The rolling droplets also help to clean any dirt present on the leaf surface.
The flowers of the Lotus plant are large, fragrant and pink or white in color. They appear in summer above the foliage on thick stems. Each flower is held 6 inches above the water by stalks (peduncles). Each flower is 4 – 10 inches and has about 15 petals with a golden yellow receptacle surrounded by a dense ring of golden yellow stamens.
The receptacle at the center of the flower is shaped like an upside-down cone. Along its flat upper surface, there are 15 – 35 short styles that look like small bumps. The flowers have a short life span they open in the morning and begin to lose their petals by afternoon.
The flower develops into a seed pod that measures about 3 inches to 5 inches in diameter. The seed pod becomes dark brown when they mature. On the upper surface of the seed pod, the individual seeds are exposed in small chambers. Soon the seedpod bends down to release the seeds into the water. The seeds of the sacred lotus can remain viable for several centuries.
Each flower blooms for about three days, opening in the morning and closing at night. The flowers ripen into nut-like fruits that are embedded in the flat surface of a conical receptacle that is 2 -3 inches in diameter. The receptacles become woody as they dry. The rhizomes, leaves, and seeds of the lotus are edible and used in Asian cooking.
How does pollination take place?
Beetles act as pollinators for the lotus flowers. These flowers produce heat to attract beetles. Lotus flowers have a life span of three or four days.
Beetles are attracted by the abundant supply of pollen to feed on and scents that signal where the food is available. To attract beetles, the lotus flowers generate heat by breaking down starches that increase the temperature during the evening and early morning hours. The heat also helps to spread the fragrance of the lotus, indicating the readiness of flowers for the pollinators.
On the first day, the flowers open partially, exposing the tips of the stamens that release a scent signaling to the pollinators that the pollen is ready to be released and the stigmas are ready to receive the pollen.
The second day the flowers reopen, fully exposing the stamens and stigmas. Now the flower is open to visiting beetles. The stamens release the pollen at this stage. As the petals close at the end of the day, the beetles are trapped inside the flower.
The beetles are trapped inside the flower in a warm environment and feed on the pollen. The beetles that have already visited other flowers pollinate the flower as they feed on the pollen.
On the third day, the flowers open again, but the stigmas are dry, and the stamens begin to wilt. On the following days, the petals and stamens fall off, leaving the receptacles behind with the developing seeds. The fruits are the conical pod with embedded seeds in it.
When the seeds are ripe, they become loose in the pod and the pod tips over releasing the seeds into the water.
Viability of Lotus Seeds
The seeds of the lotus remain viable for thousands of years due to the hardy protective seed coat. The coat is built to prevent water and air from entering and destroying the viability of the seeds.
It was found that the seed coat had enzymes that could repair any damage to the seed coat, thereby keeping the embryonic tissue alive and ready to germinate under the right conditions.
Uses of the Lotus Plant
The lotus is grown in ponds and water gardens as an ornamental plant. All parts of the lotus plant are edible. The flowers are dried and used as a seasoning. The stem of the lotus is used in soups and salads. The seeds are roasted and salted or candied.
The oils extracted from the lotus flower are used in perfumes. The fragrance of the lotus flower is supposed to bring about feelings of euphoria and heightened awareness.
The lotus plant is used in many skincare products. It is rich in antioxidants and helps to prevent cellular damage. It is intensely hydrating and helps to increase the elasticity of the skin, thereby erasing fine lines and wrinkles on the skin.
Lotus essential oil helps to prevent premature graying of hair. The oil extracted from the lotus plant stimulates the melanin cells that produce the pigments that give color to the hair.
All parts of the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) are used in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat health issues. The leaves are used to treat fever and bleeding disorders. A paste of the leaves helps to reduce skin inflammation and fever.
The stem is used to treat skin diseases like fungal and ringworm infection, diarrhea, dysentery, etc. The roots of the lotus plant are rich in iron and help to prevent the development of anemia.
Lotus seeds help to control chronic diarrhea. These seeds also contain an antiaging enzyme that helps to repair damaged protein.
© 2019 Nithya Venkat