The lotus Nelumbo, is classified as the sole member of its botanical family, the Nelumbonaceae.
There are two species of lotus:
- The sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, also known as the East Indian lotus, Oriental lotus or lily of the Nile, is native to southern Asia and can grow at altitudes of up to 1,600 meters.
- The American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, is native to a region stretching from southeastern North America to the northern parts of South America. Smaller than the sacred lotus, it bears scented, pale yellow flowers.
The lotus is a perennial plant growing from a thick rhizome. Its rounded leaves can reach up to 50 cm in diameter. The first leaves that appear, few in number, are flat and float on the surface.
They are followed by thicker, funnel-shaped leaves with slightly wavy edges that may stand from 50 cm to two meters above the water. The leaves are coated with a film, upon which water forms magnificent, glittering droplets.
The flower stalk rises above the leaves, ending in large, sweet-smelling, white or pink blooms, appearing one at a time. Each flower lasts from two to five days and darkens with age. Ranging in diameter from 15 to 25 cm, lotus flowers are termed single when they have fewer than 25 petals, semi-double if they have 25 to 50 petals, and double if they have more.
After blooming, the petals fall, leaving a cone-shaped seed head that resembles the rose of a watering can. Each of its 15 to 20 openings contains a fruit.