Lotus flowers are loved by the Chinese people because, in the words of Cao Zhi (192-232), “Of all the plants in the world, the lotus flower is the most unique.”
Lotus flowers are the earliest occurring angiosperm in the world. Long before the advent of humanity, lotus flowers were distributed in water across the globe. During geological changes, particularly when temperatures were low during the Ice Age, most plants in the northern hemisphere became extinct, but lotus flowers survived. Lotus flowers are known as living fossils, along with other relic plants, such as metasequoia and ginkgo in China and sequoia and tulip poplar in America.
There are many types of lotus flowers, including nearly 300 root lotuses, nearly 50 seed lotus and about 1,000 flower lotuses. Flower lotuses can produce very large flowers and live in very deep water (below 1.5 meters). They are ideal for building wetlands. They can also be very small in size, with the stem being less than 10cm. They can be easily placed in vases with 18cm wide openings at home. Lotus flowers are perennial aquatic plants. The original types are very large, possess a few types of petals and are pink in color. Long periods of human cultivation have resulted in three classifications: those notable for their roots, seeds and flowers. Flower lotuses have various types of patterns (few-petal, semi-double petal, double petal, heavy petal and multiple petal) and colors (pink, scarlet, white, secondary colors and yellow). People have different tastes and preferences. In the eyes of painters and photographers, few-petal lotus flowers are natural and unrestrained, heavy-petal lotus flowers are dignified, red-petal lotus flowers are bright in color and white-petal lotus flowers are plain and elegant.
Lotus flowers have great ornamental value throughout their lifecycles. They bloom one after another. Therefore, though each flower only lasts three to four days, a group of them in a temperate area can bloom for one-and-a-half months in northern China and up to three months in southern China. Tropical lotus flowers in Guangdong can bloom from mid-May to late December. In Southeast Asia, lotus flowers bloom year round. A tropical variety bred in Wuhan, Hubei Province can bloom from mid-June to early November. There are very few flowers whose blooming is for a period as long as that of lotus flowers.
They are also very adaptive to local environments. They are not afraid of the scorching sun and bloom in hot summer when there are very few other flowers blooming. They are resistant to cold temperatures. Even in the freezing winter, they can survive under frozen ice as long as their roots are kept in water or mud at 5 degrees Celsius. Lotus flowers are not sensitive to soil though mildly acidic, organic clay loams are ideal for them. They can survive and flourish in different types of soil across the country. In the Nansha Wetland near the estuary of the Pearl River in Guangzhou, a large area of lotus flowers flourish in highly alkaline water beside a forest of mangroves which grow only in sea water. In a test conducted in Honghu Park in Shenzhen, lotus flowers were found to be resistant to pollution and have a water-purifying function. Lotus flowers love the sunshine and are not shade-tolerant. They are ideally planted in areas with direct sunlight. Studies have shown that lotus flowers can only bloom in households that can offer more than 6 hours of direct sunshine per day. Lotus flowers prefer warmth. The terminal buds of lotus roots in pools begin to bud when the temperature rises to above 13 degrees Celsius in early April. In mid- and late May, the leaves grow above the water. In early and mid-June, blooming starts. In late June and mid-August, they reach full bloom. In early September, the last flowering period starts. In July and August, their fruit reaches maturity. In mid- and late August, the roots are mature. In early and mid-October, their leaves turn yellow and wither, and the plant enters dormancy. The entire growth period is 160 to 190 days and needs an accumulated temperature of about 4,000 degrees Celsius. That is the ecological reason why lotus flowers can flourish everywhere.
Lotus flowers rely on their underground roots, however, and die in harsh environments. The seeds then begin to demonstrate the plant’s vitality in the face of natural disasters. One good example is the catastrophic flood of 1954 in which all lotus flowers disappeared. Three years later, water receded to normal levels and in the shallow parts of the lake, the depth was suitable for lotus seeds to grow. Before the flood, numerous seeds had scattered around in the lake and the plants began to grow young leaves in great density, just like artificial seeding. Just two years later, this natural development restored the original scene of abundant lotus flowers.
Each part of the lotus flower is treasured. In wide wetlands, wild seas of lotus flowers extend for hundreds of kilometers and meet the horizon in the distance. Apart from ornamental purposes, lotus flowers can be used to make food, beverages, medicines, packaging materials and raw materials for industrial purposes. The roots, rich in starch and other nutrients as well as vitamins, can be eaten raw or cooked. Soup made using the roots are a special delicacy in Hubei Province. Tender roots and green lotus seeds are popular foods in the summer — fragrant, sweet, and crisp. Old roots can be made into powder or preserved slices, which are nutritious for women, children and old and frail people. Lotus seeds are indispensable at dinner in which the lotus flowers are the main course. The petals can be eaten with other food. Young lotus leaves can be used to cook congee and meat and produce unique flavors. Lotus leaves and nuts are used to make lotus leaf tea that can help people lose weight and lower blood pressure. Each part of the lotus flower can be used in traditional Chinese medicine. Their seeds and stamens are an invigorator and have astriction and calming functions while the stamens and petals have cosmetic effects. Their root slices have astriction and hemostasis functions. Lotus seed pots can disperse blood stasis and help relieve metrorrhagia, hematochezia and hematuria. The leaves and stems are bitter in taste and moderate in nature and can help people during hot summer days. Their leaves are also environmentally-friendly packaging materials. The stems are rich in fiber and can be used as raw materials in the textile industry.
Each and every part of the lotus flower is useful for people. In a poem, Liu Bowen (1311-1375) of the Ming Dynasty, wrote that “the Paeonia blooms in the spring while the cotton rose flourishes in the autumn. But none of them are as good as lotus flowers that have bright colors, fragrance and fruits.” Of all flowers, the lotus flower is unique in the sense that each and every part of it is useful for people.