Sad Leaf, Happy Leaf

Only two living species of the Lotus family, the Nelumbonaceae, are recognized today.  The Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is widespread in Asia; both Buddha and various Hindu deities often are depicted sitting on its pink or white flowers. Associated with purity and beauty because of the contrast between its flower and the muddy source of its life, this lotus is far more than a symbol: parts of the flower are used for offerings at shrines, as decoration, and in cooking.

The North American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, produces yellow flowers rather than pink or white, but it shares large, striking leaves with its Asian counterpart. As much as two to three feet in diameter, they lie flat upon the water, or rise several feet into the air.

In truth, the leaves interest me as much as the flower. As they fade away, they bend toward the water, assuming shapes as individual as the clouds floating above them. When I discovered this one, I couldn’t help but think of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and the various Arthurian legends.

The Lady of the Lake

Not all lotus leaves are so poetic, but as a group they are interesting. While lacking the slits that allow water lily leaves to drain, lotus leaves are covered with nanostructures coated with a hydrophobic wax, allowing water droplets that fall onto them to bead up and roll off the leaf. As they roll, the droplets pick up bits of dirt and debris, making the leaves essentially self-cleaning.

Of course, water can collect even on lotus leaves: often in ways that evoke human associations. When I found this ‘smiley face’ floating in Brazos Bend’s Elm Lake, I wished I could introduce it to the Lady of the Lake. It might have cheered her up.

The Optimist


Comments always are welcome.

71 thoughts on “Sad Leaf, Happy Leaf

    1. Isn’t that fun? If you look closely, you can see some of the collected debris inside the smile. I didn’t realize until I learned about the leaf’s coating that that’s probably an example of its self-cleaning.

  1. One of the most famous of lotus gardens is in Ubud, Bali.
    The frogs too and carps are frolicking amongst the giant leaves. The setting of this lotus garden at the foot of a Buddhist temple Is really mesmerising.

    1. I didn’t know about that garden, but I saw photos of a few lotus gardens in that part of the world while I was learning about the plant; they certainly are beautiful. I’ll be posting some photos of ours; the pink and white are lovely, but I am quite a fan of our yellow ones.

  2. They certainly do evoke images. The first picture vaguely recalls an elephant’s head – at least to my eyes. The smiley face in the second image is an obvious leap for everyone, but it is better I think, if the configuration is a little more vague and subject to interpretation. I remember as a child looking at clouds, and cracks in the ceiling and finding all manner of creatures and objects there.

    1. I wouldn’t have seen an elephant’s head, had you not mentioned it. I suspect what you saw as its trunk I interpreted as the Lady’s hair hanging down in her face. It’s so hard to keep a hairdo tidy after emerging from the water! Like you, I was a great cloud watcher when I was young. Watching the figures appear and dissolve was part of the fun, and no one fussed at us for ‘wasting’ time. I have a feeling Lily will be introduced to the pleasures of cloud-watching as she grows.

    1. I had been looking for leaves that I could isolate somewhat, and these two certainly gave me opportunity. I’d not thought of pairing them until this week, but they show the both the fresh and fading leaves nicely.

  3. Sad leaf, happy leaf, what begins with leaf. What a great riff on Dr. Seuss! What a great set of captures, Linda–we all need that lily pad, I suspect.

    1. I hadn’t thought of Dr. Seuss until you mentioned him, Tina, but you’re right — the title does evoke his work. I was quite taken with both photos, but posting them separately didn’t feel quite right. Finally, I paired them, and that was the answer.

      Every time I look at The Optimist I smile, although I find the Lady of the Lake compelling, too. After a few more looks, I found myself thinking of the Waterhouse painting of the Lady of Shalott. That might have been an even better reference.

    1. I’m rather fond of our species, actually — and I do think we’re far better that we’re often portrayed. Good people doing nice things don’t sell ads or get many clicks, but not everyone is cutting others off in traffic or snarling at grocery clerks — thank goodness.

  4. What a happy face on that leaf! Looks like it was smiling just for you, Linda. The other, perhaps, is more artistic and interesting, but there’s nothing like a smile to brighten one’s day!

    1. It’s been interesting to hear people increasingly complain that mask-wearing makes it impossible to exchange smiles. Facial expressions are a primary form of human communication; eliminating those non-verbal exchanges may have unintended and unhappy consequences. Smiles do brighten our days — because they brighten our spirits. It certainly brightened my day to see that smiling leaf, just as the “lady” intrigued me, and set off a different range of associations.

    1. In a way, I wish I hadn’t designated the ‘lady’ as sad. Mysterious might have done better — but with that happy lotus leaf staring me in the face, ‘sad’ it had to be. They do make quite a pair, and who isn’t going to smile back at the happy leaf?

    1. I don’t think I’m the one to create an emoji, but there’s no question that the leaf would make a fine one. While trying to remember when smiley faces first came on the scene, I found this history outlined in the Wiki.The article notes:

      “The oldest known smiling face was found by a team of archaeologists led by Nicolò Marchetti of the University of Bologna. Marchetti and his team pieced together fragments of a Hittite pot from approximately 1700 BC that had been found in Karkamış, Turkey. Once the pot had been pieced together, the team noticed that the item had a large smiling face engraved on it.”

      As Peter Allen put it, “Everything Old is New Again.”

  5. Very fun happy face! But that Lady of the Lake is really cool, too, kinda spooky.
    It reminded me – when I worked in the Seward House Museum, in Auburn NY, every day I’d walk by an Italian marble bust of a veiled lady. In the 19th c. apparently carving one of these (imitating Giovanni Strazza’s “The Veiled Virgin”) was kind of a standard display of skills. I always found the bust a bit spooky, too, but maybe that full veil look will come back in fashion during the pandemic.

    1. The more I looked at the ‘lady,’ the more she began to remind me of John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott. I didn’t see a veil; instead, I saw her hair hanging down over her face — unlike the Lady of Shalott, who managed to keep hers under control. Of course, she was in a boat, and not in the water. All of them, including Strazza’s, are a little spooky — with the Lotus lady, it was the eyes that got me. She certainly has a blank expression!

    1. It’s amazing to me how much a plant’s appearance can change from one stage to another. The lotus flowers are beautiful, and I suppose more accessible, but the dynamics of the leaves are equally appealing. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Lavinia!

  6. I love the Lady of the Lake. Did it jump out at you on first glance or was it one of those meditative images that grew? And it’s the nose on The Optimist that somehow pulls it together for me, despite the serendipity of the droplets making the eyes and mouth. I have no idea why, but those little creases leading up to the nose just work for me.

    1. I noticed the Lady-leaf because I was searching for one that was both fading and isolated enough to photograph. After I saw the two holes that looked like eyes, I got more interested, but didn’t notice the resemblance to flowing hair until I got the photo up on the computer. That’s when the image of a woman emerging from the water developed, and she became The Lady of the Lake.

      The ‘nose’ is just as interesting as the leaves’ coating. That’s the point where the stem attaches on the underside. I read somewhere that the leaves are perfectly symmetrical — those creases that extend out from the center match one another when a leaf is folded in half in any position. I looked and looked but couldn’t find where I read that. If I do find it, I’ll post the reference, since I’m not entirely sure that’s factual.

      The Lotus effect is fascinating, and not limited to lotus leaves. Elephant ear is another plant that exhibits the same qualities. Now that I’ve watched videos like this one, the inclusion of the debris in the water on this leaf is understandable.

    1. Ahem. I didn’t even see the hand until you mentioned it! Now, it’s clear as can be. While the happy Lotus is obvious, the subtleties of the Lady continue to reveal themselves.

    1. Isn’t it funny? It’s such a recognizable symbol that even when it shows up in unusual environments, there’s no mistaking it. I certainly laughed when I saw it.

    1. I’m absolutely fascinated with the self-cleaning nature of the leaves. I did a little exploring, and found that the leaves of elephant ears also self-clean. If you look at the ‘smile’ on the leaf, you can see the debris inside the water. I thought at first the water simply was covering the dirt, but now I realize that’s a snapshot of the water cleaning the leaf. That’s practicality combined with humor, for sure.

    1. That thought crossed my mind, too. Wouldn’t that be great? Do you have elephant ears? I read today that they self-clean in the same way as lotus leaves. Nature sure is amazing.

      Speaking of water, it looked on radar like you might have gotten some today. We’re still dry — everything was north and west of here.

      1. I do have elephant ears. my red ear slider loves them. no rain here but around us got some rain.several days ago a new batch of big black aggressive mosquitoes hatched out making it impossible to be outside and we haven’t even had any rain. we’re all dumbfounded as to where they came from.

  7. There you go again, Linda. You just have to be blessed with something- have no idea what it is but you find the most interesting things. This one is a doozie. It is a perfect smiley face. I am so glad that you found it. It is one for the books and made me smile- no joke.

    1. The day I found this at Brazos Bend, there were quite a few families enjoying the sights, including many who either were visiting or had moved here from India, China, and Japan. It amused me to realize that the smiley-faced leaf would appeal to them as much as it did to me: it’s truly become an international icon, recognizable to everyone. Since it was near a viewing platform, it’s entirely possible that others saw it that day.

    1. Thanks, Becky. I was drawn to both images, in different ways — and had entirely missed that my title had echoes of Dr. Seuss until another reader pointed it out.

  8. Oh, what fun! I’m starting to feel the wheel of the year turning, and I am looking forward to cooler weather (and lower electric bills).

    1. Aren’t we all? So far, the only real sign of approaching autumn is the shorter day, but I’m going to try and get out and about this weekend to see what other signs I can see. We’re still coping with terrific heat, and I’m tired of it, for sure. But it may be that some of the autumn plants are coming on, and there may be birds flocking up. I’m ready.

    1. That’s really interesting. You’re the second person who saw an elephant-like image. What seems to be its trunk looked to me like tresses of hair falling in front of her face as she rose from the water. Now, I find myself thinking of John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott when I look at her.

  9. The smiley face leaf gave me a smile, too. Who wouldn’t smile in a self-cleaning environment? Although, looking at the Lady in the Lake, I have to wonder if too much self-cleaning eventually wipes the smile off one’s face.

    1. Of course you smiled — you’re a friendly sort! Besides, who could resist friendly feelings toward such a cute leaf? I’ve seriously thought of having some note cards made from the smiley leaf.

    1. Aren’t these just a kick? I can’t believe I still haven’t posted photos of the flowers. I got so caught up in the interesting buds and leaves, the flowers are still waiting. I didn’t expect to be so intrigued by the other parts of the plant — or so amused!

    1. See? There are as many interpretations of some images as there are people. She’s seemed like an elephant, the Lady of the Lake, the Lady of Shalott, the Elephant Man, and now Medusa! Even better is that self-cleaning business, though. When I read a couple of articles about how it actually happens, I was totally amazed. Of course the scientists have found ways to use the plant’s ‘technology’ to give us water resistant car seats, fabrics, and rain gear!

    1. Isn’t that fun? Learning about the leaf-cleaning abilities of the leaves was even cooler than the happy face. The lotus has turned out to be a far more fascinating plant than I’d ever imagined — and the flowers are even prettier than I’d thought. For one thing, they’re huge. Now all I need to do is get some decent photos of the Gallinule and Moorhens that are running around in the midst of them.

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