Friday, December 2, 2011

American Lotus Field (Nelumbo lutea) at Cowan Lake

Until a couple of years ago when I started learning about native plants, I didn't know we had an American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) plant. I assumed any flower emerging from the water was a water lily, and exotic lotus blossoms could only be found in India and the Far East. It took stumbling across the American Lotus field at Caesar Creek in the autumn and seeing the incredible seed pods standing dead and brown in the water before I researched the plant and learned what it was. So last Friday, when Matty and I read that Cowan Lake also had an American Lotus field accessible from the Lotus Cove Nature Trail, it was easy to decided where we would start our hike...

Brown and brittle stalks and seed pods were all that was left of the American Lotus field at Cowan Lake.

An old, dried-out American Lotus leaf left over from this summer. It was easily 2 feet in diameter.

Telling American Lotus plants and water lilies apart
American Lotus plants are often confused with water lilies. It's easy to tell them apart, though, just by looking at the leaf. An American Lotus leaf is completely round and the stem attaches in the middle of the leaf in an umbrella-like fashion. Water lily leaves are split, and the stem attaches at the bottom of the slit, which is about 1/3 of the way into the center. American Lotus leaves can float flat on the water or extend above the water as high as 3 1/2 feet. When lotus leaves are emergent they form cones that hold water (if you look at the photo above, you can see the cone shape and the water pooling in the center). Water lily leaves usually float flat on the water's surface, and since the leaves are split, they are never conical.

...thousands of spent American Lotus plants lined the edge of Cowan Lake and filled in the cove.

Seeds once grew in these holes. As the plant matured and the seed head drooped, the seeds were released into the water. American Lotus plants reproduce via seeds and rhizomes.

...one seed remains locked in this seed pod.
American Lotus seeds are sometimes called "Duck Acorns" because the seeds resemble acorns without their caps, and ducks often eat them! "Alligator buttons" and "alligator corn" are also common nicknames relating to the seeds. Since the American Lotus was originally a plant of the southeastern parts of the United States, "alligator" nicknames make sense. The Native American Indians relied on the American Lotus plant as a food source and brought the plant north with them. Almost all of the parts of the American Lotus are edible, including the root, stalks, flowers, and seeds, but the Native Americans mostly relied on the roots to help get them through the winter.

Click here for an interesting video by Green Dean (EatTheWeeds: Episode 25: American Lotus). In the video he mentions American Lotus seeds can remain viable for over 400 years and Chinese lotus seeds for over 1200 years! I decided to look that up and found several articles about a study performed by plant physiologist Jane Shen-Miller at UCLA on germinating a dormant lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) seed carbon-dated to 1,200 years ago. Click here for her article, "Sacred lotus, the long-living fruits of China Antique."

...a dried seed pod is partially submerged in the water. Soon it will sink to the bottom, decompose into detritus, and the cycle will start again.

I can't wait until early summer when the plants emerge new and green, and beautiful, big yellow blossoms sway gently in the breeze. By then I should have a kayak or poke boat and might be able to get a little closer to the blooms...

12 comments:

DeanO said...

What an amazing cycle and wonderful pictures.

Carole Meisenhelter said...

...isn't that remarkable, the longevity of the lotus seeds. Interesting post, I do have some dried lotus pods fixed to long stems in a jug. Lovely textures.

TexWisGirl said...

i knew there were different varieties. thanks for explaining the american version! and, wow! longevity is right!

Lois Evensen said...

How fascinating! Lovely images, too. I am learning more and more about our own neighborhood through your blog. :)

Montanagirl said...

You did a great job of describing the Lotus! And your photos are excellent as always.

Roy said...

From a distance they look like head gear that a Vietnamese farmer would wear Kelly.{:)

Timaree said...

I didn't even know we had them! I'm surprised we aren't harvesting them as the chinese do.

Hilke Breder said...

The photos of the lotus seed pods are extraordinary. Kelly! Thanks also for interesting info.

KaHolly said...

What a beautiful pod. Can't say I've ever seen them. I'll have to look more carefully during my travels!

KaHolly said...

Or maybe I should go look at the right time of year!! I've certainly seen them in bloom, as evidenced by my avatar, :)

Gillian Olson said...

These are beautiful images, the seed heads are particularly interesting.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! I can't wait to see this lotus field in the spring and summer. I hope to have a kayak or poke boat by then and be able to get really close!