American lotus, Nelumbo lutea
Photograph by Richard H. Wiegand
This majestic plant, “the flower of eternal calm”, grows only in quiet waters. It ranges from Ontario south to Florida and from Minnesota southeast to Maryland. The American lotus can occur in a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, ponds, slow flowing rivers, cypress swamps and estuaries. The large, circular leaves either float on the water or extend a few feet above the surface. Its flower stem stands one foot or higher above the surface, giving rise to a magnificent white flower, which blooms for three to five days in early summer.
The American lotus’ reproductive characteristics present a particular challenge to conservation efforts. Its hardy seeds may remain dormant for a century or more before they receive the disturbance required for germination. Once a seed does germinate, however, the plant grows and expands, sending out underground stems called rhizomes that produce new, genetically identical plants. Consequently, a population of the American lotus can consist of only one single – yet extensive – plant. This “clonal” characteristic concerns conservation biologists, who maintain that limited genetic diversity in the American lotus may lessen its chances for survival.
The American lotus, imperiled due to its rarity in Maryland, occurs in protected coves of only four creeks and rivers in the State: Mattawoman Creek on the Western Shore, and Great Bohemia Creek, Little Blackwater River and the Sassafras River on the Eastern Shore.
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