American lotus is an aquatic plant that can cover large areas. Flowers are held singly above water on long stalks, with 20 or more sepals and petals, light yellow, to 8 inches across, with a central elevated receptacle resembling a showerhead. Blooms June–September. Leaves are blue-green, shed water, normally held above water level on long stems (young leaves float), circular, extremely variable in size, to 2 feet wide, with the stem attached in the center. The receptacle, to 5 inches wide, starts out soft and yellow and becomes brown and woody as the seeds ripen. Seeds are acornlike, anchored in deep pits.
Similar species: Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) have white, pink, or violet flowers that lack the round disk at the center, and their leaves have a V-shaped notch.
Leaf width: to 2 feet.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in oxbow lakes, sloughs, and ponds, preferring still waters with a mud bottom. Although American lotus regularly produces seeds, it spreads mainly through its thick rhizomes that grow along the pond bottom. Despite its ornamental qualities, American lotus should not be introduced into most fishing ponds. Lotus spreads rapidly in shallow water and can soon completely cover a pond.
A valued native wildflower that is sometimes planted as an ornamental in aquatic gardening but can also become a nuisance aquatic plant.
American lotus was an important food source for Native Americans, who dug up the starchy roots with their feet. Young shoots were eaten as greens; the unripe seeds taste like chestnuts and when ripe can be hulled and roasted.
Waterfowl eat the seeds, and large colonies are important nurseries for fish and other aquatic life as well as shelter for ducks.