Nelumbo lutea
Babs Ellinwood Photo

 The Habitat and Habit of Wild Nelumbo

by Kit Knotts
Click images to enlarge

Nelumbo nuficera
"Boyne Island Lotus"
Nannette Bailey Photo
In Diversity and Classification of Flowering Plants, Armen Takhtajan, 1997, placed the family Nelumbonaceae in the sub-class Nelumbonidae, setting lotuses apart from the waterlily family. The genus Nelumbo contains two species, nucifera and lutea.

Distribution of
Image from
Angiosperm Phylogeny Website
In the wild, Nelumbo nucifera is distributed from the Caspian Sea and Iran through India, China, Vietnam to Japan, Malaysia, New Guinea and Australia. For complete distribution see GRIN Taxonomy Database for Nelumbo nucifera. It is cultivated in many countries as a food crop and has naturalized in some parts of the eastern United States. Its flowers are pink.

Nelumbo lutea originated in the United States, probably in the east-central region and is thought to have been carried north and east by native Americans who used the seeds and tubers for food. For complete distribution see GRIN Taxonomy Database for Nelumbo lutea. The flowers are yellow. It is considered invasive in some areas as large colonies can restrict small boat navigation, fishing, and provide habitat for mosquitoes. 

Both species grow in flood plains of rivers, in ponds, lakes, pools in marshes and swamps, and backwaters of reservoirs. They grow in water as deep as 8' but do best in water 18" to 5'. Initial establishment is presumably in shallow water with expansion into deeper water.

Nelumbo nucifera - Dave Wilson Photo

Nelumbo lutea
Dirk Rosenberg Photo

Lotus tubers
Sandy Burrell photo

Lotuses propagate from seed or fleshy rhizome which can develop into tubers in the fall. Seeds and tubers are edible, and widely used in many Asian cuisines. Young leaves, leaf stalks and flowers are consumed as vegetables. Flowers are also used in the production of perfume, and several parts of the plant are used medicinally.

Nelumbo lutea is not as widely cultivated as Nelumbo nucifera but selections and cultivars of both species are among today's most popular aquatic ornamentals.  

References and additional reading:

Environmental Laboratory, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

Flora of China: Online version from Harvard University

Flora of North America: Collaborative Floristic Effort of North American Botanists

Flowering Plant Gateway of Texas A&M University Bioinformatics Working Group

USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program
Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online Database]

Mansfeld's World Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops

Stevens, P.F. (2001 onwards). Angiosperm Phylogeny Website

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