A couple weeks ago I went into detail about the aquatic plants in Pool 1. I mentioned that over the last 10 years American lotus has expanded in parts of the lake. The expansion of this plant is an annoyance to anglers and a concern for biologists. However, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. From this perspective I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the other uses of this plant.
You might have seen part of a lotus plant at an antique shop or a florist’s without even realizing it. The empty seed pods look kind of like brown, distorted showerheads. This is often called yanqypin and has been used in floral arrangements for years.
Flowers, water and light have always caught an artist’s eye. The pale-yellow lotus flower and radiating lines along the circular floating leaf are enough to peak the interest of any amateur photographer. Upon further inspection, the scattered water droplets rolling around on top of floating leaves can also make for some interesting photos.
If you’re not artsy and all business, you could take a different perspective on these water droplets. Large droplets form because the leaf surface is highly water repellent. If you play Scrabble or want to impress your friends, you could say it is hyper-hydrophobic. In 1977, in a German journal, Barthlott and Elmer described why the complex micro-structure of the lotus leaf is able to repel water so well. In the '80s and '90s several products have mimicked this “lotus effect” to create various coatings and paint that repel water and dirt.
Prior to the age of technology, the plant was valued for its nutrition. Native Americans actually cultivated this plant across North America and ate its leaves, seeds and roots. I’m still waiting to see Bear Grylls on “Man vs. Wild” jump into a swamp and grab a lotus flower and snack on a few seeds or munch on a large tuber that he just pulled from the muck.
Although one common name is duck acorn, you won’t find the lotus seeds listed in many waterfowl food studies. That being said, this plant does provide some benefit to waterfowl. The big, leafy plants can create an extensive canopy and can provide important cover for the young wood duck and hooded merganser ducklings as they forage and grow over the summer. Adult birds also migrate to the Mingo Basin to molt their feathers in Monopoly Marsh and Pool 1. They, too, use the lotus as cover during this period of flightlessness.
Understanding the various roles and values that plants play within the ecosystem is important for biologists to understand. Plants can function as indicators of the type of wetland and can point towards how long an area has been flooded.
American lotus tells me that the site has had stable water conditions for quite some time. If the site continues to be permanently flooded without some method of disturbance, the lotus will continue to expand because of its extensive root system and will crowd out other species.
As I mentioned before, there can be too much of a good thing. Striving for diversity keeps the system healthy. With a mix of plants and animals present as wetlands draw down or flood up, the right species can take advantage of the situation. This is how the nutrient cycle and food webs continue to crank through the seasons. When conditions become stale, productivity drops and only a few species become dominant. Natural resource management relies on disturbance to keep resetting habitats and maintaining diversity. In wetlands we do this with managing water levels, using machinery or applying herbicides.
While these tidbits of trivia may not keep you from cursing these “trash” plants in Pool 1 when your lure gets hung up, it does highlight some of their other values of American lotus. If nothing else, you’ve got a new word for Scrabble ("hydrophobic" or "hydrophobicity"). Good luck fishing, and remember: patience and light line.