Nelumbo is a genus of aquatic plants, commonly known as lotus, in the family Nelumbonaceae. There are 2 species in the genus. It was once thought to be part of the water lily family Nymphaeaceae, but, in a case of convergent evolution, is now known to be in the order Proteales and is a eudicot, and its closest relatives are members of the Proteaceae family! It has large circular leaves (without the characteristic notch from the edge into the center in Nymphaea leaves) that rise above the surface of the water and large many-petaled blossoms which grow from tubers that grow in fairly shallow water. The tubers are edible. The seeds can live for an extremely long time as evident by germination of a 1,300 year old seed recovered from a dried lake bed in China.
Nelumbo lutea is native to the United States, Mexico, Honduras, and the West Indies. Flowers are pale yellow and the outer petals are persistent. It is also known as American Lotus, Yellow Lotus, Water-chinquapin. The tubers are large and starchy and are eaten by Native American. Seeds must be scarified before sowing in water.
Nelumbo nucifera is native to Asia. Flowers are pink or white and the outer petals are shed early on before coming to a full bloom. It is an important plant in Asian cultures, particularly in Hinduism or Buddhism where it is considered sacred. Most parts of the plant are edible. The starchy tubers are often very large with holes running laterally inside. Tubers can be prepared in many ways from stir-fries to stews. The young shoots are delicious stir-fried and have a very distinctive flavor with a nice crunchy texture. The leaves are used to wrap food in markets or food can be steamed in them. The stamens are very aromatic and can be used to flavor tea. The young seeds are eaten fresh and old seeds are used in many desert dishes. Many hundreds of varieties have come out of horticultural selections and hybrids with N. lutea. Dried seeds are extremely hard and must be scarified before sowing in water.
The photos below were taken by Nhu Nguyen of an unnamed cultivar. Photos #1-2 show the flowers and photo #3 show the seedpod and seeds.