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Photo of lotus in pool at Duck Creek CA
Despite its ornamental qualities, American lotus should not be introduced into most fishing ponds.
Frank Nelson
Edible
Family

Nelumbonaceae (lotuses)

Description

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.

Size

Leaf width: to 2 feet.

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Photo shows American lotus flower pod at Duck Creek CA
American Lotus Seedpod
The central elevated receptacle of American lotus resembles a showerhead.

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Photo of American lotus, young floating circular leaf
American Lotus (Floating Leaf)
The leaves of American lotus are blue green, circular, without a V-shaped notch, extremely variable in size, to 2 feet wide, and can shed water.

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Photo of an American lotus flower, closeup from side
American Lotus
American lotus is a valued native wildflower that is sometimes planted as an ornamental in aquatic gardening but can also become a nuisance aquatic plant.

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Photo of pool 1 at Duck Creek CA
Treated Lotus Patch
American lotus spreads rapidly in shallow water and can soon completely cover a pond, requiring control efforts.

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Photo shows water beading up on the surface of lotus leaves
Water Droplets on Lotus Leaf
The blue-green leaves of American lotus shed water. They are normally held above water level on long stems.
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.

image of American Lotus Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered statewide.

Status

A valued native wildflower that is sometimes planted as an ornamental in aquatic gardening but can also become a nuisance aquatic plant.

Human connections

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.

Ecosystem connections

Waterfowl eat the seeds, and large colonies are important nurseries for fish and other aquatic life as well as shelter for ducks.