Known more widely as the Lotus, the Nelumbo genus contains two species, Nelumbo nucifera, and Nelumbo lutea, which are part of the Lotus plant family.
These perennial plants only grow in large bodies of water. Nelumbo lutea is native to North America, and Nelumbo nucifera hails from tropical parts of Australia and Asia.
Nelumbo At A Glance
Plants belonging to the Nelumbo (lotus) genus and those which belong to the Nymphaea genus (water lilies) are very similar, but there is one way which easily distinguishes the two.
Lotus plants which come under the Nelumbo genus have leaves which only sit on the surface, while water lilies develop foliage which can live underwater.
A further distinction between these two genera is that the lotus flower is much bigger than the blooms produced on a water lily.
Nelumbo nucifera or the Sacred Lotus, is highly regarded in both Hinduism and Buddhism, along with featuring in different creation myths, too (see also Lotus Flower Meaning And Symbolism).
The Meaning Behind The Name
The genus name comes from the Sinhala word nelum, which is the name for Nelumbo nucifera.
Nelumbo lutea is sometimes called the American lotus, and Nelumbo nucifera is usually referred to as the Indian lotus or the Sacred lotus.
It’s worth mentioning that the name lotus is sometimes used interchangeably with the plants belonging to the Nymphaeaceae plant family, so always refer to the scientific name if you are unsure.
Lotus Flower Symbolism
Depending on the cultural lens you’re viewing the lotus flower through, the plant can have numerous meanings.
Essentially, lotus flowers represent divinity, rebirth, renewal, enlightenment, grace, beauty, innocence, and fertility.
It’s also the national flower of India and Vietnam. In India, the lotus flower has a large role in mythology and art.
For the meaning behind water lilies, check out our Water Lily Meaning And Symbolism guide.
Lotus Flower Uses
In traditional medicine, Nelumbo nucifera is employed to treat fever, general sickness, stomach upsets, diabetes, abdominal complaints, and even mushroom poisoning.
It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as Lian. It’s primarily used to stabilize the heart, kidneys, and spleen, while also helping to calm the spirit.
The lotus flower is safely edible, and the fruit which contains the capsules is often employed in culinary recipes.
It also makes a fantastic ornamental plant, if you have a pond or a lake which is crying out for more life and color.
Lotus Growing Guide
Lotus plants are wonderful perennials which are hardy in USDA zones 4 through to 10.
They bloom throughout spring and summer, in shades of white, pink, or yellow, depending on the species and cultivar you go for.
They are fairly low maintenance, and require plenty of space.
Nelumbo nucifera is the biggest of the two plants, capable of reaching 7 feet tall, while Nelumbo lutea can reach between 3 and 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar.
Lotus plants like full sunlight, and require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight in order to flower properly.
You won’t need to water the plant, as it sits in water!
In terms of soil, you should either go for a specialist water-based plant mix, or use heavy clay or topsoil.
Avoid traditional garden compost, especially with lots of organic matter, as this can cause the plants to rot.
For more on how to grow lotus flowers, as well as varieties to try, visit our guide for Lotus Flower Varieties And Plant Care where you can find suggested varieties, and a detailed guide on how to care for these aquatic beauties, including the maintenance you will need to do.