Plant Profile: American Lotus (Nelumbo Lutea)

Figure 1: Nelumbo lutea flower. Figure credit: Robert H. Mohlenbrock.
USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide
to plant species
. Northeast National Technical Center,
Chester. Courtesy of USDA NRCS Wetland Science Institute.

This post is one of a series from Botany professor Nisse Goldberg's students at Jacksonville University. Student authors: Kelsey Irvine & Irene Julian

The American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is an unusual plant, as it can survive floating in fresh water! It is a plant native to the hot and cold climates of the United States and Canada, including Florida, as shown by the blue shading in Figure 2. The American lotus is found near the floodplains and tributaries of rivers, as well as muddy lake margins, marshes, and swamps. If you would like to see this lovely lotus, Lake Okeechobee and the Glades County would be excellent places to visit.

The American lotus grows mainly in the summer and can extend up to 3 feet in water! Because it can be relatively large, the plant requires ample depth to grow and space for its leaves to float along the surface of the water. The showy flowers are yellow/white in color and are typically 6 inches in diameter (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Native Distribution of Nelumbo lutea in the a. U.S. and b. Florida. Figures from
Many people confuse the American lotus (genus Nelumbo) with the water lily (genus Nymphaea), but an easy way to distinguish between them is to analyze their leaves (Figure 3). The water lily has indentations or cuts on its leaves, but the American lotus has leaves that are flat and circular (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Comparison of a. Nelumbo and b. Nymphaea leaves. Figure credits: R.H. Mohlenbrock and M. Manske.

In the past, humans have eaten parts of the American lotus for food: the roots baked like a potato, the seeds toasted like nuts, and the leaves cooked like lettuce leaves. They can be used for decoration along with other flowers. These fragrant water flowers are gifts to the waters of Florida, and can be a beautiful addition to your backyard pond.


Plants Profile: Nelumbo lutea. 2011. Retrieved from US Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service website:

American lotus. (2011). Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. Retrieved from:

Native Plant Database: Nelumbo lutea. (2011). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from:

Gann, George D, Kieth A. Bradley, and Steven W. Woodmansee. Rare Plants of South Florida: Their history, conservation, and restoration 2002. The Institute of Regional Conservation. Retrieved from:


Ellie Whitney said…
May I reproduce your photo in a book I am writing? Ellie Whitney, Ph.D., biologist.
It is not my photo. The source is cited in the caption below it.

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