Nelumbo nucifera sacred lotus
Nelumbo nucifera sacred lotus are in bloom in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens lotus pool now, in our Astral southern hemisphere summer. They emerge from the pond over three days and then bloom from morning until later in the afternoon. The plant makes a striking show with its large 15cm diameter, solitary, pink flowers and its large leaves, which are either floating or emergent.
The leaves are peltate (round) 40 to 50cm in diameter, blue green in colour, with an up to 2m tall spiny petiole. It has spiny rhizomes, about 2 to 3cm in diameter which contain air canals. It has a wide distribution across southern India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia. In Australia it occurs on slow moving, floodplain swamps and billabongs, sometimes in greater than 2m deep water (Sainty & Jacobs, 1994).
Nelumbo nucifera sacred lotus is widely planted around the world for its ornamental value in ponds. It is also used in many countries for its seed production and rhizome production both as a food crop. Different varieties are used either for flower colour, for seed or rhizome production.
Interestingly the sacred lotus plant on its peltate leaves, has a structured hydrophobic cuticle, leaf surface, responsible for the famous and imaginatively named ‘Lotus-Effect’. The rough epicuticular wax crystalloid plant surface causes water repellency and reduces adhesion of other particles. Water droplets roll off the surface of leaves and this is where the term ‘Lotus-Effect’ derives from. In this self-cleaning effect, surface particles are picked up by the water droplets being repelled and rolling off of the leaf. There is considerable potential here for bio-mimicry, making self-cleaning artificial surfaces, such as on cars and building facades (Barthlott & Neinhuis, 1997).
The plant Nelumbo nucifera sacred lotus is not to be confused with the Egyptian blue lotus flower, Nymphaea caerulea, which is a psychoactive plant, also known by the names of blue water lily or sacred blue lily, and was used in religious ceremonies to achieve closer contact with the next world.
Ancient Egyptian scholars observed that at night the blue lotus, closed its flower and appeared to sink into the water, then the flower appeared the next day with the sun. The scholars associated this with rebirth and the Sun. This association is why the lotus came to symbolize the Sun and Creation.
For a long time, the blue lotus Nymphaea caerulea had been used in the hieroglyphics and art of upper Egypt, while the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus was used as a symbol in lower Egypt, where it grew in abundance. In many sites the two plants grew together and hence was used to represent the joining together of the two kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt (Kandeler & Ullrich, 2009).
Barthlott, W., & Neinhuis, C. (1997). Purity of the sacred lotus, or escape from contamination in biological surfaces. Planta, 202(1), 1–8.
Kandeler, R., & Ullrich, W. R. (2009). Symbolism of plants: examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art: JULY: Lotus. Journal of experimental botany, 60(9), 2461–2464.
Sainty, G.R. and Jacobs, S.W.L. (1994) Waterplants in Australia (3rd ed.). Sydney, NSW.: Sainty and Associates. Book.