To many cultures, the lotus flower is a holy symbol, and it is entrenched in symbolism. There are only two species of lotus that are living today that we know of, Nelumbo nucifera, and Nelumbo lutea, or hybrids of the two.
The lotus is an ancient species of plant, and fossils have been found in North America and Eurasia dating back to the Cretaceous period.
If this wasn’t intriguing enough, the lotus flower itself may actually be a living fossil, as the closest relatives are those in the protea (see Proteas: Common Flower Varieties, Meaning and Growing Tips) family, and the plane trees.
But the noticeably long period of time the lotus has survived is not the only interesting characteristic it possesses (see also Nelumbo Grow Guide).
The lotus flower can self-regulate its temperature, similarly to animals and humans, and it can create heat by itself.
Keep reading to discover more about this fascinating plant, the varieties you can grow yourself, how to look after them, and the benefits these plants have.
At A Glance: Lotus Plant Facts
Lotus flowers don’t get very tall once they reach the surface of the water, but the plant itself can spread 10 feet wide.
The flower that the plant produces is the national bloom of both India and Vietnam, and parts of the plant are used in traditional culinary dishes in both countries (see also Katuk Grow Guide for another tropical vegetable option).
China uses the lotus flower as part of their crop rotation, involving rice and other vegetables.
The leaves of the water lotus repel water, and you can see water form on the leaves as droplets.
This makes the plant self-cleaning and allows for light to be absorbed more readily, as dirt particles are absorbed by the water droplets, which in turn stops the water from sticking to the leaves.
The History Behind the Lotus Plant
While it’s impossible for us to trace back the very first origins of the lotus plant, they have made appearances in several ancient cultures, forming part of religion and mythology.
It just goes to show you how the beauty of a flower can inspire so many cultures, and you can see just one example of this in Ancient Egypt, where the lotus symbolized the journey from death to the afterlife.
They have been introduced all over the world, where they’ve naturalized to different climates, like Australia and Russia, India and Vietnam.
The way these plants grow is striking. The plant springs up from the murk of the pond, river, or lake, and opens out with the most fantastic blooms.
As these flowers almost look unrelated to the plant with their stunning colors – considering the most likely cloudy water they’ve sprung from – these blooms have been linked to enlightenment, grace, and rebirth for centuries.
It is also reinforced by the seeds remaining viable after thousands of years, showcasing the stunning resilience that these plants have.
Varieties of Lotus Plants to Grow
The lotus flower is a perennial which has a lot of varieties within the two surviving species.
The noticeable variation appears in the number of petals, the color of the blooms, and the lily pads.
The following is a list of varieties you should consider growing yourself, and all have something different to offer.
Nelumbo lutea ‘American Lotus’
One of the most common types you’ll see is Nelumbo lutea, or the lotus flower which is native to North America.
While it is endangered in its wild habitat in the US, it’s also found in Mexico, Honduras, and the Caribbean.
Mature American lotus plants can reach 5 feet tall, and the flowers which can be white, or a soft yellow can reach a maximum of 11 inches in diameter, and have a maximum of 25 petals.
Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn ‘Vietnamese Lotus’
Found naturally throughout Vietnam, the flowers of a Vietnamese lotus are pink, but they can also be found in white. The plant itself is considered a staple of culinary tradition.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Angel Wings Lotus’
You’ll most likely recognize an ‘Angel Wings Lotus’ by the lily pads, which can reach up to 24 inches in diameter, nearly perfectly round in a light green.
The flowers produced are white, like the name suggests, giving the plant an ethereal appearance, especially since the water doesn’t need to be deep for this lotus to thrive.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Momo Botan’
A dwarf type of lotus which is suitable for containers or small ponds, this plant can grow to a maximum of two feet tall.
It has the benefit of being a fast-growing plant with an extended flowering period, meaning that it will add color and interest to any container or pond in no time at all.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Sacred Lotus’
In East India, the ‘Sacred Lotus’ is considered exactly as it sounds. This is because it’s a very resilient plant, and grows in even the thickest or muddiest water, featuring a 13-inch wide flower which can be white and pink.
It’s also known as the ‘Bean of India’, or the Indian lotus, as many parts of the plant are utilized for culinary purposes.
Nelumbo ‘Lavender Lady Lotus’
If you have a bigger lotus in mind to cover a large pond or lake, the ‘Lavender Lady Lotus’ can happily reach 2 meters tall. The leaves are a lovely sight on their own, stretching around 40cm across.
The flowers, like the name might suggest, are purple, but can turn pink. This particular lotus does better in humid climates.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Frankly Scarlet Lotus’
Perfect for medium or larger sized ponds, ‘Frankly Scarlet’ produces single pink flowers, and the plant itself can grow 6 feet tall.
If you live somewhere that gets cold winters, this lotus would benefit from some winter protection.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Mrs. Perry D. Slocum’
‘Mrs Perry D. Slocum’ was created by crossing Nelumbo lutea and Rosea Plena.
When the lotus first opens, it is a lovely rich double pink, which transforms to a creamy yellow as the flower matures over three days.
It’s also a heavily scented lotus, adding another dimension to its beauty.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Carolina Queen Lotus’
The shape of the unopened ‘Carolina Queen Lotus’ resembles a tulip, adding another level to any water garden.
This particular lotus grows to a maximum height of 6 feet, and needs full sun in order to produce as many rose-pink flowers as possible.
It’s a fairly hardy lotus, and thrives in deep water, though if you’re considering it for a small pond, it will take over very quickly.
Nelumbo nucifera ’Tinh De Lotus’
Found exclusively in Tau Quy, within the Gia Lam District of Hanoi, Vietnam, this striking lotus is rare, and rarer still for its characteristic of producing two flowers on a single stem.
While this would be a very difficult plant to get hold of, it’s worth mentioning for its beauty alone, and if you ever plan on visiting Vietnam, it would be a sight to see.
This lotus is often thought to embody love and faithfulness, as the two flowers bursting from the same stem represent two lovers.
The flowers that this plant produces feature pink or white petals.
Nelumbo ‘Green Maiden Lotus’
If you’d like a smaller variety, look no further than the ‘Green Maiden Lotus’. While it is much smaller in stature – anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall, the petite flowers are not to be discounted.
These flowers bloom earlier than some on this list, and they are a sight to see. The petals come in several pastel shades which have a hint of green.
Sometimes, the ‘Green Maiden Lotus’ can even produce double-headed blooms like the ‘Tinh De Lotus’, making it a very versatile flower. It’s perfect for small container gardens, where its petite beauty can be admired most.
Nelumbo ‘Celestial Lotus’
Also known as the Red Celestial Lotus, this plant produces blooms in a lovely crimson, with around 80 petals per flower.
Unlike some varieties, the ‘Celestial Lotus’ cannot bear any weight on its soft leaves, so you’d best leave the lily-pad sitting to the pollinators.
If you’d like a water lily (note: not lotus) which has proved its strength with children sitting in the middle of the lily pads, the Victoria amazonica is for you.
The ‘Celestial Lotus’ blooms from mid-July into the last days of August.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Chawan Basu Lotus’
The ‘Chawan Basu Lotus’ is perfect for colder conditions, thriving both in ponds and containers, as it’s another dwarf lotus.
It grows to a maximum of 35 inches tall, and blooms in a light shade of pink, with the underside of each petal a richer, deeper pink.
The name ‘Chawan Basu’ describes the shape of the flowers, which resemble a rice bowl.
Nelumbo lutea ‘Yellow Lotus of the Shine’
This wonderful lotus variety is as unusual as its name. It really comes into its own when it flowers, featuring white blooms with crimson borders, and a bright yellow heart.
The flower will reach about 6 inches in diameter, and the plant itself will reach a maximum of a foot tall.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Sunflower Lotus’
As you might guess, this lotus doesn’t exactly thrive in low light. In fact, it needs the most sunlight possible in order to produce its fantastic dark pink blooms, which feature white hearts.
While it thrives in warmer climates, it can also tolerate some cooler temperatures, making it a very versatile choice.
Nelumbo ‘Red Lotus of Yohan’
One of the most pigmented red lotus flowers you can grow, the ‘Red Lotus of Yohan’ features stunning crimson flowers, producing at least 25 petals per bloom.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Lotus of Golden Wheel’
For a very prolific bloomer, ‘Lotus of Golden Wheel’ is a great option. It produces white flowers which have crimson borders and deep red hearts, and around 20 petals make up these lovely blooms.
The leaves of this plant are also a feature in themselves, having a delicate appearance.
It has the benefit of being very easy to propagate, making it perfect for large bodies of water, or even as gifts.
This lotus plant will treat you to a spectacular display from the first few days of July into the first weeks of September.
Nelumbo ‘Cherry Lotus’
The ‘Cherry Lotus’ is a more common type of lotus than some on this list, though its burgundy blooms look anything but ordinary.
The flowers themselves reach a maximum of 8 inches wide, blooming from the later days of July up until the end of August. Each bloom contains around 18 petals.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Alba Grandiflora’ Asiatic Lotus
If you want some of the largest blooms that a lotus is capable of, the Asiatic lotus, or ‘Alba Grandiflora’ is the lotus for you. It’s the result of crossing different lotus plants, forming this striking hybrid.
The plant can grow to a maximum of 6 feet tall, and each brilliant-white bloom reaches about 6 inches in diameter, carrying a delicate scent.
The flowers are prolific in the growing season, and you might even spot a few in winter, even in the coldest of temperatures, making a fantastic display in any water garden.
Nelumbo ‘Sweetheart Lotus’
Another hybrid, the ‘Sweetheart Lotus’ features fantastic blooms which are tricolored, a lovely blend of yellow, cream, and white, sure to add color and depth to any pond or lake. It also helps offset the bright green foliage.
This plant is also highly adaptable, capable of surviving in both warm climates and cooler temperatures, making it a great option for most aquatic garden spaces.
Nelumbo ‘Red Scarf Lotus’
The ‘Red Scarf Lotus’ thrives in direct sunlight, and produces bright pink blooms, which contrast well with the pea-green foliage. It’s also known as the Honglingjin lotus.
The blooms reach about 6 inches in diameter, and feature white centers.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Shirokunshi Tulip Lotus’
Another lotus that needs full sun in order to bloom profusely, the Tulip lotus produces white flowers with single petals which are elongated.
This lotus produces these fantastic blooms throughout the season, and will grow in many climates thanks to its hybrid nature.
Nelumbo ‘Lotus of the Clear Moon’
Another white lotus, the ‘Lotus of the Clear Moon’ has a green tinge to its blooms, featuring a maximum of 26 petals per flower.
This is a versatile lotus which will grow and even bloom in a very small container filled with water, making the planting possibilities endless.
This particular variety flowers from the later days of July into the end of September, and produces an edible fruit.
Nelumbo ‘Red Lotus at Yushan’
If you want more petals per flower, the ‘Red Lotus at Yushan’ is the variety for you.
This particular lotus produces rich pink flowers with 30 petals in each. The color of the flower matures into a warmer pink, and the flowers themselves can be double or semi-double in form.
Nelumbo ‘Baby Doll Lotus’
One of the most striking white varieties of lotus flowers you can get, ‘Baby Doll’ is a dwarf variety, and produces crisp-white flowers atop its bright green pads.
It can take some time for the plant to establish itself, so you won’t see its full flower-producing capabilities until it is older, like most plants.
Nelumbo ‘Red Lotus of Tatsuta’
During the Tenpo period (1830-1844), seeds of the ‘Red Lotus of Tatsuta’ were gathered from a lotus in the Omi Province, by the head priest of the Yonan Temple in Tokura-cho, named Ryuten.
He took them back to the temple, and planted them in front of the temple gate, where they flourished.
This variety produces some of the darkest crimson lotus flowers available, and the plant itself is also used in Asian (See also Top 10 Asian Flowers and Their Meanings) dishes.
Nelumbo ‘Lotus of the Absolute Reality’
Thought to be one of the oldest types of lotus, the ‘Lotus of Absolute Reality’ produces flowers with petals in abundance, around 24 per flower.
The flowers produced are a vibrant green.
Nelumbo ‘Lotus of the Wisteria Court’
One of the largest varieties native to Japan, the ‘Lotus of the Wisteria Court’ produces blooms which reach about 10 inches in width, and can feature up to 25 petals per bloom.
You can also recognize this lotus by its leaves which are rough, and how the flowers appear in the last days of July through to the middle of August.
Nelumbo ‘Lotus of the Princess’
One of the most profusely flowering lotus varieties, ‘Lotus of the Princess’ produces captivating red flowers with around 18 petals per flower.
Like the ‘Lotus of the Wisteria Court’, this variety features coarse foliage.
Nelumbo ‘Perry’s Giant Sunburst Lotus’
‘Perry’s Giant Sunburst’ is a fantastic variety which produces single-form flowers in a glorious bright yellow, which is sure to attract anyone’s attention.
However, you’ll need plenty of water to grow this lotus, as it can reach about 5 feet tall, so it’s unsuitable for smaller ponds or containers. These blooms can also stay open for three days straight.
Nelumbo ‘Roseum Plenum’
The lotus flowers produced by ‘Roseum Plenum’ are usually double-formed, in shades of white or pink. It needs a humid environment in order to survive, and the flowers themselves reach 10 inches in diameter.
The foliage is a great backdrop to these blooms in shades of bluish green, and the flowers resemble peonies, making a fabulous display in any pond.
Nelumbo Nucifera Speciosum ‘Sacred Pink’
‘Sacred Pink’ is an interesting lotus in that it has several uses. It’s used in making incense, tea, and wine, among other uses.
The flowers are pink and white, and the plant itself prefers a cooler climate, although it can adapt fairly easily to a range of temperatures.
Nelumbo ‘Curious Lotus’
This lotus is a fantastic double-flowering variety, which can hold anywhere between 300-6000 petals. These fantastic blooms appear in shades of red, deepening at the tip of the petals, and flower in August.
This variety does not produce seeds, so it reproduces through the roots.
Nelumbo ‘The Whole World’
One of the larger variegated lotus flowers, these blooms appear a yellowy white, and the edge of each petal is ringed in magenta. Each flower has a maximum of 18 petals.
This lotus is also called ‘Daimyo Lotus’.
How to Grow a Lotus Plant Yourself
Lotus plants are relatively easy to grow, and you can see this in how they’ve endured through time.
In fact, the problem that you’ll most likely have in growing them is needing to clear some from your pond to stop the plants wholly blocking off the oxygen when they cover the entire surface.
The seeds themselves can take up to a month to germinate. Once the seeds sprout, pop them into warm water, which you’ll need to refresh every day.
Once they get big enough, you’ll need to transplant them into the mud of the pond or the container you want to grow them in, so the roots can establish themselves.
Lotus plants can grow in specialist compost, or you can mix your own, making sure to cover the soil in sand and then gravel, so that it doesn’t float away once you submerge it. If you use too much organic material, it can result in the seeds or delicate tubers rotting.
When you plant out your lotus, submerge your container around 6-12 inches below the surface. Don’t worry about them taking a while to bloom.
Lotus flowers take a lot longer than water lilies to bloom, as they need a few weeks of warm, sunny weather in order to get started on their fabulous blooms.
You can even try growing lotus flowers from seed to keep them indoors, though this will be trickier, as they won’t have the room to grow and spread like they’ve evolved to do.
That doesn’t mean it is impossible, though they will require a lot of light to thrive – and the standing water may attract unwanted insects into your home!
How to Look After a Lotus Plant
Most lotus plants will thrive in USDA zones 5-10, and will tolerate temperate, tropical and even subtropical climates. If you are wanting to propagate an existing lotus, do so in spring.
The roots of the lotus flower are the most important to get right – and as long as they are in the mud of the container or pond, they’ll be able to self-regulate their temperature as needed, except in very cold conditions.
They will mostly take care of themselves, pulling heavy metals from the water and pollution from the air, all the while providing your green space with color and beauty.
In autumn, if the foliage turns yellow or brown, don’t worry. This is normal, and shows that the plant has gone dormant. Leaves withering outside this season can be a number of things, including pests, nitrogen deficiency, and the wrong pH.
Fertilizing a Lotus Plant
If you want to fertilize your lotus plants – and they are heavy feeders – you’ll need to use specialist aquatic pond plant fertilizer. Preferably organic, so it doesn’t harm anything living in the water!
You’ll need to hold off until the aerial pads are sitting on the water until you apply the fertilizer, otherwise you could risk upsetting the new plant’s growth.
Uses of the Lotus Flower
Lotus flowers have a range of uses, and it mainly depends on the variety as to what they are used for.
As an ornamental plant, they add a lot of color and beauty, they provide a safe spot for pollinators to drink without drowning, and they help pull pollutants out of the water.
Many parts of the plant are edible, and are used in traditional cuisine. The flower contains vitamins as well as starch, and are incorporated into salads, soups, or tea.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Petals Does a Lotus Flower Have?
It entirely depends on the variety of the lotus flower. Some have as little as 8 petals, while some can have up to 30 petals. The ‘Curious Lotus’ is said to have much more than this, however!
Are Lotus Flowers Toxic?
No. people wouldn’t eat them if they were toxic or poisonous, but that doesn’t mean you should try eating them raw.
This can lead to contracting disease, so always cook the lotus before you try to eat it.
Many different cultures include the seeds, flowers, stems, or even the rhizomes in their culinary dishes, and it is an experience to try it!
Why are Lotus Flowers Special?
Lotus flowers are fantastic blooms that add a lot of breath-taking beauty in any space, and they are considered living fossils.
It always surprises people how these striking colors appear from murky or even muddy water, which is how they came to symbolize rebirth.
The lotus flower is a fantastic sight to see, and growing one is extremely rewarding when you see the plant bloom for the first time.
There are a myriad of varieties to choose from, making the planting schemes endless, and there’s bound to be one perfect for your garden, even if that’s growing a petite variety in a container.
So what do you have to lose? Trying to grow one for the first time is an interesting journey, one you’ll be sure you won’t forget.