The Lotus Admirer

American Lotus spread across Elm Lake ~ Brazos Bend State Park

According to Greek mythology, Odysseus encountered the tribe known as the LotusEaters during his return from Troy, when a north wind drove him and his men away from Cape Malea and onto an island. After the local inhabitants invited Odysseus’s crew to join them in eating the mysterious plant — known for its ability to induce a dreamy forgetfulness — those who partook became languorous and bereft of memory. Without being dragged back to the ship and chained to their rowing-benches, they never would have returned to their duties. The incident is included in Book IX of the Odyssey:

The Lotus-eaters did not plan death for my comrades, but gave them of the lotus to taste. And whosoever of them ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus had no longer any wish to bring back word or to return, but there they were fain to abide among the Lotus-eaters, feeding on the lotus, and forgetful of their homeward way.
These men, therefore, I brought back perforce to the ships, weeping, and dragged them beneath the benches and bound them fast in the hollow ships; and I bade the rest of my trusty comrades to embark with speed on the swift ships, lest perchance anyone should eat of the lotus and forget his homeward way.

When I discovered the broad expanse of lotuses filling Elm Lake, I had no desire to eat one, but I was more than willing to admire them. Their color, their form, and their height — as much as three or four feet — made me eager to forget my homeward way and linger in their company.

One of the most striking characteristics of the plant is the central, cone-like receptacle that contains ten to twenty pistils embedded in pits.


After the flower’s blooming is complete, the receptacles flatten and turn brown as seeds develop. Eventually the receptacle bends downward, releasing its seeds into the water; mallards, Canadian geese, and northern shovelers feed on them, while humans enjoy the empty pods as delightful accents for flower arrangements.

Unlike the mythical Lotus-Eaters, humans consume the seeds, leaves, and starchy rhizomes of the plant for nutrition rather than forgetfulness. Cooked young leaves taste very much like spinach; older leaves are useful for wrapping food. Immature seeds can be eaten raw, while older seeds can be ground into flour. The roots are stuffed, roasted, or stir-fried, and even the stamens of the flower can be dried and used to make a fragrant tea.

English designer William Morris’s advice to “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” could apply doubly well to the lotuses in our lakes and ponds; the plants are both immensely useful and breathtakingly beautiful.

Comments always are welcome.

74 thoughts on “The Lotus Admirer

  1. Stunning Photography! Thank you for a day brightener. You’ll enjoy the story of Ganna Wolska and her Lotusland Botanic Garden in Montecito, CA. She cut quite a swath thru Santa Barbara and beyond.

    1. Thanks for the mention of Ganna Wolska. She was new to me, although I suspect every gardener in SoCal knows of her: probably a good number beyond Santa Barbara do as well. I found some photos and an interesting article here. This paragraph was quite a tease:

      “Ganna, who preferred to be called ‘Madame’ through her lifetime, was born in Poland in the late 1880s, married a Russian count when she was nineteen and then, successively, five other men (a handful of millionaire tycoons and a yoga guru included) while pursuing an opera career and spiritual illumination (through séances, the Ouija board and hypnotism) in New York. She ended up in California in the early 1940s with her last husband (Theos Bernard, the yogi), where, after a sticky divorce, she devoted herself, and her accumulated wealth, to plants.”

      If I had a million dollar jewelry collection for Sotheby’s to auction off, I’ll bet I could create a garden, too! I did enjoy seeing far more than her lotuses; the cacti are quite impressive, as well as some of the less formal plantings.

      1. Reports say she met ship captains at the docks to ask that they bring her specimens of anything from anywhere, which they did; thus her garden has a varied collection. I, too, am in awe of the cacti collection. Read more about it; a collector bequeathed his collection to her in his lifetime. It took years and hundreds of truckloads to deliver it all. It is a sublime experience. Lotusland is open Feb thru Nov limited hours, Well worth a visit. I’ll return to Brazos Bend with clearer eyes.

        1. Aren’t they? I’m not so sure packaged chips would be worth trying, but I’d be willing to do some kitchen experimenting if I could find fresh lotus roots. I’ll not be diving for them, though!

  2. Perhaps if you’d known about the edibility of so many of the lotus’s parts when you photographed these flowers you’d have been fain to partake of some. If those seed heads didn’t exist, some practitioner of Art Nouveau would have had to invent them.

    1. When I read about the leaves being used as wrappers for food, of course the first thing that came to mind was tamales. I suspect some tasty ones could be made using only parts of the lotus. As for those seed heads, it really was fun to see them in every stage of development. Some maintained their yellow color even as they began the process of flattening.

  3. In a delightful ceramic, enamel, glass and wrought iron Art Nouveau style bath featuring the lotus motif, that last picture as the shower head . . . .

  4. Thanks, Linda, for the information. I keep wondering which plant Homer was actually thinking of.
    Gorgeous flowers in absolutely fantastic pictures.
    Have a great weekend,

    1. Apparently there’s no firm answer to the question of which plant Homer had in mind; it seems to be more mythical than botanical. But, I did find this: “Botanical candidates for the lotus tree include the date-plum (Diospyros lotus), which is a sub-evergreen tree native to Africa that grows to about 25 feet bearing yellowish green flowers, as well as Ziziphus lotus, a plant with an edible fruit closely related to the jujube, native to North Africa and the islands in the Gulf of Gabes such as Jerba.”

      Heraclitus is said to have mentioned the lotus-tree, but I couldn’t find any evidence that he had an actual plant in mind, either. So, we’ll just enjoy the story — and the flowers!

    1. Brazos Bend is famous for its alligators,and for the number and variety of birds.I wasn’t able to capture any decent photos of the Gallinule and Moorhen chicks running around among the leaves, but I was able to get some photos of the adults and other birds.

      Apparently the lotus do spread enthusiastically, but their self-cleaning leaves are matched by another of their tricks. From a 1996 NY Times article:

      “Researchers report that the lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warmblooded animals do.

      Dr. Roger S. Seymour and Dr. Paul Schultze-Motel, physiologists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, found that lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens maintained a temperature of 86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, even when the air temperature dropped to 50 degrees. They suspect the flowers may be turning up the heat for the benefit of their cold-blooded insect pollinators… Warmblooded animals have a very sophisticated nervous system for sensing temperature and controlling heating and cooling. Now here’s a plant that’s doing exactly the same thing.”

      I knew that skunk cabbage generates heat, but I was surprised by the lotus. What’s even more interesting is that elephant ears have self-cleaning leaves and generate their own heat. There are things happening out there!

    1. There are at least two lakes in the park that are filled with lotus. There may be more, but I got stopped by this one, and still have much more exploring to do. I was a little late to find them in full bloom this year, so next year I’ll visit a little earlier.

  5. What a pretty, buttery color — and I didn’t realize they were edible! Sure, I’ve seen the dried portions in flower-type arrangements, but this is just one more element of proof that our Creator put here everything we’d need — if we can only determine what’s helpful for what kind of condition, ha!

    1. ‘Buttery’ is just right, Debbie. Not only that, you can slice the roots and make chips from them. If you’re not inclined to do it yourself, of course you can order lotus crisps from Amazon — if you don’t have a neighborhood Asian market. Who knew?

    1. Lucky you. My memories of my first years in Houston are quite different; I can’t believe it’s taken me forty-seven years to get to Brazos Bend (or thirty, if you count my permanent relocation here). Now I need to tear myself away from this lake and explore farther into the park.

  6. I think that “orange” is perhaps not the only word in the English language that has no rhyming match…”lotus” comes pretty close.
    My grandmother used to have a lot of lotus seed pods around her house for flower arrangements. Her salads tasted a bit unusual, which might explain a lot regarding my current mental capacity for forgetfulness.

    1. You’re right about the lack of rhymes; I’d not thought about that. ‘Potus,’ ‘Scotus,’ and ‘Flotus’ came to mind, but they’re acronyms rather than words, so they don’t really count.

      I wish I’d done more lotus-eating in the past. It would make my inability to remember where I left my favorite scraper far less distressing. I have been thinking about the seeds that fall out of those pods. I wonder if any kids ever have used them to play marbles, of if little girls have strung them into necklaces. They seem like good candidates for either use.

  7. I’ve always thought that there’s something space-ship like with lotus flowers. I think it’s that weird and wonderful pistil receptacle that appears other-worldly. Regardless, they’re beautiful and fascinating plants. Your photos capture their odd charm!

    1. I keep feeling like that receptacle should remind me of something else, but it doesn’t. Once it’s dried out, the resemblance to a shower head’s obvious, but in the earlier stages, it’s just itself: as weird and wonderful as can be. I did see couple of seed heads that were flattening but still yellow; I’d love to get a photo of those before the season’s over.

    1. The flowers are so similar, I looked around a bit and discovered there’s such a thing as a red lotus tree. It’s a magnolia, but it’s evergreen and from Asia; I suspect it got its name because the flowers resemble the lotus.

      On an entirely different subject, this article about dumpster diving wood storks reminded me of your comment about seeing them in the parking lots there. I thought it was so odd, but obviously there are a lot of urban storks roaming around!

  8. A wonderful sight and a stunning plant to get to know. There is a whole new gourmet adventure awaiting the adventuresome vegetarian or vegan. And may I point out that the correct name of Branta canadensis is Canada Goose NOT Canadian Goose. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for that tip about the goose’s common name. I’m not sure how I’ve missed that, but now I’m all up to speed. As a bonus, I now know there are seven sub-species of Canada geese, and something known as a cackling goose!

      As for those gourmet adventures, I suggested to another reader that tamales made entirely of the lotus plant would be possible. They even come with the leaves to wrap them in. What I’d really enjoy trying are chips made from the roots. Plantain chips are delicious; I suspect lotus chips would be, too.

    1. The flowers are beautiful, the seed pods are interesting, and the whole plant can be used for food: what could be better? From the point of view of the birds that live among them, I suppose the shelter they provide might be better — they’re great hiding places for baby moorhens and gallinules.

    1. I suspect you’re right, Becky. There are only two species of lotus: this one, and the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) which is pink. There are two easy ways to distinguish a pink lotus from a pink water lily. The lotus has that odd-looking receptacle in the middle, and lotus leaves don’t have the split found in water lily leaves. Also, pink water lilies float on the water, while the lotus rise up above it. I think the sacred lotus is far more commonly planted in ponds; lucky you to have seen some!

    1. I think those seed pods are fascinating. When they begin to flatten, they stay yellow for a time, and one of my goals is to photograph one while it’s still holding its color. Many people see the seed pods as shower heads — I’d not thought of that, but once I came across the description, I can’t unsee it.

  9. Wow! That’s quite a display. I definitely see the magnolia resemblance. And I’ve seen those pods in florists’ arrangements for years, but never knew what they were, kind of remind me of those little handheld games, where you shake and roll the BB’s through a maze into little holes.
    I was thinking, that Odysseus’s men should’ve stayed there after all, none of ’em made it home. If they’d just stayed with the lotus-eaters, instead of BBQ’ing some sacred cows, they might have survived. Surprised Jimmy Buffet hasn’t written a song about that crew.

    1. I loved those games with the BBs and holes! They were one of my favorites on car trips when I was a kid. I’d completely forgotten about them. They used to make pretty good stocking stuffers at Christmas. Like you, I’d seen the pods for years without knowing what they were. Then, I found out they were lotus pods, but I still didn’t know exactly how they were formed. Now, I’m all up to speed.

      It’s funny that the Lotus-Eaters only got about twenty-five lines in Homer’s tale. Maybe writing about all that indolence got to Homer, and he just gave up. As for Jimmy Buffett, there is his tale about that One Particular Harbor. I can imagine Odysseus kicking back with a brew and singing along.

    1. Oh — well. I’d say that most of the sentimental objects I’ve kept are both beautiful (in that they’re associated with special people and places) and useful, especially since they evoke memories that might otherwise fade!

        1. I don’t know what he meant, but I love the advice — mostly because he leaves it up to each of us to decide for ourselves what’s useful or beautiful. That doesn’t mean an end to discussions about aesthetics and so on, but there are some ‘important’ paintings that meet most peoples’ definition of beauty that I’d no more hang on my wall than I’d invite Jack the Ripper for dinner.

  10. Poor Odysseus, beset as he was by the lotus eaters, Circe, sirens and the giant one-eyed cyclops. His problems were minor in comparison to Penelope, however, who had to deal with a 101 suitors! Peggy and I came on a beautiful lake filled with lotus flowers on out recent journey. The bank was covered with several other beautiful flowers. I’m pretty sure there will be a post on it. Great photos as always, Linda. –Curt

    1. Since I spent more time around cornfields than lakes in my early years, aquatic plants just weren’t on my radar. Now, there are so many that appeal to me — including the alligator flag that drew me to Brazos Bend in the first place. I still haven’t posted photos of that one — there were far too many other delights to be enjoyed.

      I’m anxious to see more from your trip. I’m glad you managed to enjoy it without all the current complications. I trust things are better in your neighborhood now — and that you find all well in Talent.

      1. Another Level 1 alert here, today, Linda. So we aren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. And there is horrendous air pollution. We are staying inside.
        Peggy and I really enjoyed our trip, beyond freeway travel. Going into Louisiana was about as bad as it gets.
        The pond in Diamond was one of my major play places— but it was filled with cattails, catfish, bullfrogs, black birds and ducks. There were no lotus flowers. Later on in the Sierras, I was introduced to Indian Pond Lillies, which were somewhat similar. It’s obvious how you have fallen in love with Brazos Bend. –Curt

    1. I’d forgotten those flower frogs. They were so practical, and reusable, unlike the green florist’s foam. Now I’m wondering if the designers of the frogs were inspired by the lotus pod: or if in earlier times the pods themselves were put to use that way.

  11. This post is exquisite, Linda. I never knew the mythology of it (I wouldn’t mind a little lay low and relax effects of the pod these days!), nor did I realize that the lotus was used in various foods. But I do love the seed heads (even if I didn’t know that that’s what I had!) The bloom is gorgeous and I’m fascinated by its center. Lovely. Happy Sunday!

    1. Do they use the lotus pods at Southern Exposure? As complex as their arrangements can be, I wouldn’t be surprised — although they may stick with materials that are more common in your area.
      I’d love to try making lotus crisps, but finding fresh lotus root might be an issue. The few stores in Houston who have it listed are all sold out. That makes sense, since it has minimal shelf life, and fresh is important. There are several restaurants that have things like lotus root and pork soup on their menus. Maybe I’ll find one in my area.

  12. I, too, am guilty of forgetting my homeward way when confronted by a lake full of lemony Lotus blossoms.

    Not only is the plant utilitarian in reality (your tamale suggestion sounds good), but for the photographer it presents so many opportunities. The blossoms at sunrise/sunset, the wonderful sea of green when flowers aren’t blooming, fantastic abstract possibilities of those seed pods and the ever changing appearance as seasons progress.

    Beautiful photography. Thank you.

    1. Photographing at sunrise hasn’t been possible, since the park doesn’t open until 8 a.m., but believe me — I’ve thought about it. Sunset’s a little problematic because of the surrounding trees, but perfection’s hard to come by. I am eager for the plants to begin dying back a bit; I think it will make it easier to spot the birds roaming among them.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. There’s a world in that lake, and all of it’s interesting!

    1. It’s useful for the birds that live within its leaves, for the fish that hide beneath it, and for people who use it for food. Of course, it’s quite beautiful, too — I don’t know if the fish and birds appreciate that, but I certainly do!

    1. Thank you, Maria. They are such beautiful plants — and I was thrilled to have them blooming so nicely for my first experience of them. I’d seen the leaves and pods once before, but I had no idea these were a part of the state park.

      1. I’m not a Buddhist, but I left you a quote by Buddha because in Buddhist belief, the analogy of the lotus floating above the murky waters is seen as breaking free of material attachments by growing so erect and symbolizing enlightenment in one’s life.

    1. I’ve always liked the seed pods. Like you, I saw them in arrangements long before I knew what they were. I always assumed they were some sort of exotic import; I had no idea that they also were a native flower. I suppose that makes sense, since lotus ponds weren’t part of my Iowa years. Even here, I’ve not found them outside the state park and the Anahuac preserve — although there is a pond on a ranch near Seguin where I might have captured some in the background of a photo, but they’re too far away to be sure.

  13. I enjoyed your views of this lotus, differing in color from those I see locally which are red. At one time a Since she passed away the pond has not been maintained and is now full of cattails. It was also a fine location for froggies. There are other spots here in WMass to find lotuses but it was nice having them a few minutes away. I wasn’t aware that Canada Geese ate the seeds but their diet is quite varied so am not surprised.

    1. I looked through some of your posts, and really enjoyed the ones of the leaves. I wonder if the colors in yours are because it’s a different species, or if your different environment makes the difference. The only leaves I’ve seen with ours have simply turned brown and shriveled. Maybe it’s been our hot summer. I’ll have to make it a point to check out ours once the weather cools.

      1. For the most part they do just turn brown. Did you see the psychedelic leaf? It was unusual but maybe the frost preserved it a bit. That’s probably my favorite of the leaf shots. Now if one had a frog silhouette…

      2. And I sit corrected. I just looked at GoBotany and they show yellow and no mention of red. So the ones I see here must be from afar. I guess I should travel to some of the other locations. In any case, they are not quite considered native in MA coming a bit short on the map.

        1. I finally figured that out when I was researching them. Voila: “Nelumbo nucifera, also known as Indian lotus, sacred lotus, bean of India, Egyptian bean or simply lotus, is one of two extant species of aquatic plant in the family Nelumbonaceae.” That’s your pink one. The other species is lutea, which is the yellow one.

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