The Luminous Lotus

Lotus plants (Nelumbo nucifera) fascinate me both as a landscape designer and a photographer. They start blooming in mid-summer just when you would give your right arm for something new to unfold in the garden. And they arise out of muck and mud, looking pristine and otherworldly at the same time. The Confucian scholar Zhou Duryi once said, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

Did you know that a lotus’s flowers, seeds, young leaves and rhizomes are all edible? (Thank you, Wikipedia.) You may have seen the dried cups, below, used in flower arrangements.

lotus, Nelumbo nucifera

Fruit of Nelumbo nucifera

The tightly-furled buds of the flowers are magnificent,

Lotus flower bud, Nelumbo nucifera

Lotus bud and leaf at Kenilworth Gardens

as are the backlit leaves when the photographer gets lucky.

Lotus leaf

A backlit closeup of a lotus leaf at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Lotus flowers can range from 4 to 12 inches when open.

Nelumbo nucifera

Lotus flowers open and in bud

Once fully open, their seed heads are bright yellow with tiny hairs that attract bees and other insects almost constantly. To get a shot without insects crawling all over them takes patience (often in blazing sun).

Nelumbo nucifera, seed head

These exotic, luscious flowers need a “bed” such as a pond or other water body and three months of temperatures averaging 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit to bloom. All of the photos above were taken at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington DC during two field trips with my camera club in different summers. The other place I have seen them en masse is at Chanticleer, in the Pond Garden. But a couple of weeks ago, shooting a garden that will be on September’s Open Days tour here in Washington, I encountered a beautifully designed back yard setting where the lotus’ color and its leaf size and shape had been used perfectly.

Lotus flower, Posner Garden, Garden Conservancy

The Corinna Posner Garden in Washington DC

Here, the huge leaves of the lotus provide a wonderful foil for the delicate foliage of the dissected maple behind it and the airy, spiky shapes of the other plants in the left of the composition. The garden’s owner is a landscape designer who is a partner in European Garden Design, and her garden is a marvel. Watch this space in early September for a further sneak peak at it, and in the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed these views of the luminous lotus.

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8 Comments on “The Luminous Lotus”


  1. Oh My! Stunning Melissa! Breathtaking photos! Brava!

    • Melissa Says:

      Carol, thank you so much for the kind words. I am fortunate to have Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which has acres of these beautiful flowers in bloom this time of year, within driving distance. I think your climate is not warm enough to grow lotuses, am I correct?

  2. Pam/Digging Says:

    I don’t have enough sun for a lotus in my small pond, but my kids and I were just admiring some yesterday at the local pond nursery. They were delighted when I showed them how absolutely waterproof the lotus’s leaves are: when you splash a little water on them, the water breaks into tiny balls, like beads of mercury, and rolls right off. It was endlessly fun to flick a little water on the leaves and watch it roll around like marbles.

    • Melissa Says:

      Didn’t know that about the leaves! The day I was at Kenilworth, even though it was just after sunrise, it was so hot that any dew had evaporated anyway. I love this plant and would love to see it planted in a client’s stream bed garden area . . .

  3. John Says:

    Wow, wonderful photos. I can’t imagine the patience you had to get that lighting. As it happens I just finished posting about my trip to Lilypons which also has some beautiful water plants to show off for this time of year.

    I’ve finally won the lottery for entrance into the NBCC and I’m looking forward to meeting you at one of the meetings… — jw

  4. Sarah Says:

    Melissa, I am going to repost this particular piece on my site. Incredible!

  5. Melissa Says:

    Reblogged this on Garden Shoots and commented:

    With my computer still out of commission, here’s an encore appearance of another one my favorite posts. Hope you enjoy seeing these lotus photos again.


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