The lotus plant is a hydrophyte or water plant, and can be found in lakes and rivers. Its roots are called rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontal stems that can germinate from any part of the plant. Lotus roots slither into muddy beds and produce new plants that grow towards the water's surface. Once they reach the surface, they produce large round leaves that rest on the water, supporting the plant. Stems continue to grow up to a meter above water until they produce a flower that blossoms in summer. Lotus blooms spread up to thirty centimeters wide. The broad flowers come in a variety of colors and smell like aniseed. The flowers eventually produce fruit. Mature lotus fruit looks a little like a watering can, with the seeds as holes. Lotus seeds float to colonize new areas. The lotus has adopted survival strategies for life on water. Its priority is avoid sinking. The stem is rich in air and its large leaves act as buoys. Leaves are waterproof so even in heavy rain the water slides off of them and does not weigh the leaves down. Lotus plants originate in South East Asia, and thrive in muddy, still waters. It is a very adaptable plant and can also live in low temperatures.
The lotus plant is almost entirely edible. Egyptians grew it along the banks of the Nile. It was considered a sacred plant and prized for its edible seeds, known as the “beans of Egypt.” Seeds can be eaten raw or cooked like popcorn. Lotus roots are rich in vitamins and nutrients. The Chinese use them to make vegetable soups. Once dried, the inside of the flower is used to perfume tea. In Asia, the large leaves are used as containers for food. In many Asian countries, the lotus flower has symbolic meaning and appears in sacred images. It represents beauty, purity and fertility. The Lotus flower is also important for Buddhist culture. The Buddha is often shown sitting on a lotus flower. Legend has it that wherever Buddha steps, a lotus flower will grow. Ancient Egyptians believed that the sun rose every morning from a lotus plant cradle. In the West, the lotus flower is prized for its ornamental value. Lotus plants are used to decorate ponds and gardens, and dried lotus fruits are used in flower arrangements.