SURELY one of the most beautiful and exotic of all flowers is the lotus.
There are two species: Nelumbo lutea (the American lotus) and Nelumbo nucifera (the Asian lotus).
The Asian lotus is native to a huge area, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
It was introduced to ancient Egypt by the Persians, and brought into horticulture in Western Europe under the patronage of Joseph Banks in the late 1780s.
It is now widely cultivated throughout the world, and not just for its ornamental value.
All parts of the plants are used for food and traditional medicine.
It also has significant religious symbolism, and is the national flower of India and Vietnam.
Lotus flowers have long been a symbol of immortality and resurrection because they grow from the bottom of dried-up pools after the monsoon rains.
They also represent purity and divine beauty, floating above the muddy waters below.
The lotus is an aquatic perennial, active throughout summer and completely dormant in winter.
The roots and rhizomes grow in the mud at the bottom of a pond, river or lake but, if you don't have one of those, a large bowl or pot will do perfectly well.
The huge leaves, like giant nasturtium leaves, are borne on strong, thick stems which rise up to a metre above the water. They settle and rest on the water after a few days.
The gorgeous plump buds emerge on long, straight stems, rising above the leaves before opening to reveal the exquisite flower.
The perfectly arranged petals open each morning and close in the evening.
The centre, or heart of the flower, is a disk-shaped cone that holds the seeds.
When the petals fall, this centre hardens and the seeds form, so the spent flower remains attractive in its own right.
Lotus blossoms are in shades of white, yellow, pink and red.
There are many different cultivars.
Debbie Gibson is a strong grower bearing large, single creamy lemon flowers.
Mrs Perry Slocum is rich double pink, changing to creamy yellow with a pink flush over a three-day blooming period.
Paleface has large, single white flowers with pink tips. Momo Butan is a dwarf variety with small pink flowers.
Lotuses will grow in full sun to part shade.
They have vigorous running rhizomes, so need to be grown in a wide container.
If you decide to grow a lotus in a water bowl, start by placing a layer of gravel in the bottom of the bowl.
This will help to create an environment that can support the little eco-system required to grow healthy plants and keep water fairly clean with minimal effort.
Then place the wide, shallow container containing the lotus plant on top of the gravel.
The depth of water over the top of the pot containing the plant can be anywhere from 15cm to 60cm or so.
You might add some fish to keep mosquito larvae under control.
The stems of the lotus can grow tall, and are easily damaged by strong winds, so it's best to grow them in a protected position.
Lotuses are vigorous growers and heavy feeders, and need to be fertilised every four to six weeks during the growing season with water plant food tablets.
If you can't find those, roll a tablespoon or so of slow release fertiliser for flowering plants in a square of newspaper and poke a couple of these parcels into the mud, avoiding the growing tips as much as possible.
Even though they are dormant for three to four months of the year, lotuses are one of the most rewarding - and easiest - plants to grow.
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