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Photo credit: © Bernard Dupont, https://flic.kr/p/fZru3L
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Species at a Glance
Pink lotus, also called sacred lotus and Asian lotus, is a showy aquatic perennial that resembles a water lily, although the two are not related. It is considered invasive outside of its native range due to the dense colonies it can produce in natural areas.
Leaves: Medium green to blue-green leaves either float at the surface of the water or are held up to 1.5 m (5 ft) above the water by their petioles. Circular leaf blades are hairless with smooth edges that may undulate up and down. Leaves are large, showy, and water resistant, spanning 0.2-0.9 m (0.5 to 3 ft) across with many radiating veins.
Flowers: Large, fragrant flowers are held up to 2 m (6 ft) above the water. They have 12-15 pink petals with showy yellow stamens around a central large receptacle. Flowers are 10-25 cm (4-10 in) across. The blooming period occurs during the summer and can last about two months. The short-lived flowers open up in the morning and begin to lose their petals by the afternoon.
Fruits/Seeds: After the flowers drop, a seed pod remains in the center of the flower with many small openings that resemble a shower head. These pods turn from green to dark brown in color. Individual seeds form in the pod and may remain viable for centuries.
Stems/Roots: Thick rhizomes have fibrous roots and allow the plant to aggressively re-grow new plants.
Pink lotus is very similar to the native American lotus (Nelumbo lutea); however, it can be distinguished by the color of the flowers. American lotus has yellow flowers instead of the characteristic pink; however, cultivars of these two species tend to have whitish-pink flowers. The leaves of the pink lotus also lack the characteristic slits found on water lily leaves.
Pink lotus prefers full sun and water up to 2 m (6 ft) deep in mucky submerged soils with little exposure to wind and waves. It thrives in small ponds, lagoons, marshes, and shallow areas of lakes and rivers.
Colonies of pink lotus can spread aggressively by both seeds and rhizomes, giving them the capability to rapidly establish and spread throughout water bodies.
Native to southern and eastern Asia, pink lotus is the national flower of India and Vietnam, and has multiple medicinal and culinary uses. It was most likely introduced into the United States as an ornamental, which escaped cultivation and established into natural areas. It can be found in multiple states in the midwestern and eastern United States, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016), the source of information for this description.
Dense mats of floating pink lotus can inhibit the growth of other native aquatic vegetation, decreasing biodiversity and impacting the wildlife that depend on native plants for food and shelter. In addition, these floating mats can negatively impact recreational activities like boating, angling, and swimming.
Information for this species profile comes from the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016).