The Lotus Flower: An Impressive Exclamation Point in the Water Garden

Known in the East as the Sacred Lotus, the lotus has a long, mystical history. It has been given several colorful names including Pink Lotus, Hindu Lotus, Sacred Water Lily, and more. The lotus figures prominently in several Eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism and is considered sacred by Greco-Roman culture. In Buddhist meditation; there’s a meditative pose referred to as “the lotus.”


Impressive to Say the Least

Lotus is considered one of the most impressive aquatic plants available on the market today. It is a true aquatic perennial plant that belongs to the genus Nelumbo and consists of only two species – the yellow-flowered American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) found in the Americas, and the pink Asiatic lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) found in Asia, Australia, and Eastern Europe. The two species have been grown and bred for centuries, resulting in hundreds of hybrids that range in many sizes and colors.


Lotus Flower Size and Color Choices

The lotus flower comes in three basic sizes; small, large, and look out! The small sizes are really small and are usually referred to as teacup, miniature, or bowl lotus, ranging from just a few inches in size to a little over a foot in height. The tiny lotus can be very temperamental and are better left to experts.

The large lotuses are euphemistically called “dwarf” even though they can attain heights of three to five feet, and sport flowers more than six inches in diameter. ‘Momo Botan’ is a classic example of a dwarf lotus.


Lotus 'Momo Boton' - lotus flower
Lotus ‘Momo Boton’


The full size, or “look out” lotuses, are magnificent plants and are the focal point of any water garden when in full bloom. These monsters have leaves that grow up to three feet in diameter, flowers up to 13 inches in diameter (such as ‘Perry’s Giant Sunburst’) and can exceed six feet in height from the water’s surface. While lotuses are generally shallow-water plants, leaves have been pulled up that have 13 feet of stem attached, although that is way too deep for the plant to flower.

Flowers come in an array of colors – yellow, white, pale to deep pink, and varying combinations of two or three. Flowers with a single set of petals are by far the most common configuration, but hybridization has resulted in cultivars with many more petals than occurs naturally. The popular ‘Momo Boton’ takes high honors for having an almost obscenely high petal count in an unkempt configuration that bears little semblance to its less pretentious, Japanese namesake meaning, “like a double-flowered peony,” and rarely produces a symmetrical flower. Amazingly, it is the best-selling lotus in the U.S.

Lotus is an extremely versatile plant and doesn’t need to be confined to the pond. It can be easily grown in large tubs or planters either above or in-ground and integrated into most any landscape. Since lotus are so demanding with their personal space, it’s often more practical to grow them outside the pond in any container water garden that is appropriate to the estimated size of the variety you choose.

In addition to its flowers, lotus leaves are unique and special. They have a waxy covering that causes water to bead up on the leaf like mercury. Since the leaves are concave, the water (from dew or rain) collects in the bottom of the leaf until it evaporates. Children usually enjoy taking a leaf and swirling water around inside. Golden club, a native marginal plant, also has this property which accounts for one of its colloquial names, “Never Wet.”


lotus flower


More Beautiful Than Difficult

Because of the lotus’ size and beauty, it carries a bit of mystique and is sometimes thought of as a difficult plant and could easily be considered the prima donna of the water garden, but like most temperamental divas, it responds well if a few basic needs are met.

First and foremost among these requirements is full sun. Partial sun simply will not produce robust, blooming plants. The other primary requirement for lotus is room – lots and lots of room. And lastly, is fertilization since lotuses are heavy feeders. Fertilization must be done carefully and at the right time or the leaves will burn from the fertilizer and the plant will die or decommission itself for the remainder of the season.


Don’t Be Afraid

If you’ve been afraid to try the lotus flower in your pond or in a container water garden because you’ve heard they’re difficult, don’t be afraid. These beauties are worth the little extra care they require by rewarding you with beautiful blossoms and interesting foliage that adds an impressive exclamation point in your water garden.