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 From Editor-in-Chief
Charles B. Thomas

Lotus Mania

Lotus mania is growing at a dazzling pace. Until recently, lotuses were often an afterthought by water gardeners and botanic gardens. Today they are a focal point in many aquatic gardens around the globe. How did this happen?

Let’s begin with a brief review . . .

Countless generations of Eastern water gardeners have quietly enjoyed Nelumbo nucifera varieties. Over centuries they amassed hundreds of cultivars in varied colors from red through pink to white, in stem length from ten inch (25 centimeter) miniatures to seven foot (2.1 meter) giants, and in purpose from ornamental to nutritional to spiritual.

Meanwhile, North American natives enjoyed handsome stands of Nelumbo lutea that provided visual pleasure as well as wholesome food for people and wildlife. Pre-World War II American water gardeners chose from a half dozen or so available lotus varieties. Then Perry D. Slocum began introducing eye-catching new hybrids and authoring classic lotus texts. Still, few gardeners in the West knew much about uncounted lotus choices flourishing in the East.

Twenty-five years ago telephone and fax messaging served to link private and commercial water gardeners together. Local and international water garden societies formed. Authors began writing internationally marketed water garden books touting lotuses. Importantly, the internet soon made easy the global sharing of water garden information. Lotus interest expanded significantly as a result.

With trans-Pacific trade booming in recent decades, Chinese lotus treasures found their way westward. At a 1990s Philadelphia Flower Show, I was astonished to find dozens of miniature “tea cup” lotus choices offered at modest prices. Although half of them never grew (none in a tea cup), I was thrilled with my “new” beauties that did bloom.

Australian Grant Mitchell became fascinated with lotus and has been visiting Oriental lotus sites to learn all about them. For 25 years his kind hosts have revealed their specialized knowledge to him. He shares his understanding through lectures, (including for the China Lotus Association Symposium), tours and articles. During this same period, Nola and Michael Fenech became enthralled with lotuses. They enlisted Grant to introduce them to Chinese lotus experts and sites.

The Auburn Lotus Project in Alabama, USA, with Dr. Ken Tilt, Warner Orozco-Obando, C. J. McGrath, and Bernice Fischman, demonstrates keen academic interest in lotuses for horticultural and agricultural value. In Thailand, Dr. Slearmlarp Wasuwat is keynoting The 1st International Conference on Lotus, Waterlily 2010 at Kasetsart University October 20-24. It is being held concurrently with The 8th Conference on Research and Development of Lotus, Waterlily as the Economic Plants of Thailand 2010. Pertinent research and conferences give promise of new developments for lotuses.

Journal publisher Kit Knotts regularly sparks the spreading of lotuses with fascinating articles on partner WGI and Victoria-Adventure sites. A favorite is her extensive compilation of over 800 lotus names with detailed information for each, many with photos. Under auspices of the International Waterlily and Water Garden Society, Kelly Billing and Paula Biles authored The Lotus: Know It and Grow It, giving easy-to-follow information promised by its title.

Joe Tomocik reports, “This summer as part of its traditionally fabulous spine-tingling display, Denver Botanic Gardens will grow and evaluate six new ‘tea cup’ lotuses. The Colorado Water Gardening Society at its April Get Wet event sold miniature lotuses and will monitor their performance.” DBG and CWGS hope for a higher blooming rate than they experienced during their 1997 trials.

Aquatic nurseries and botanic gardens, growing and displaying ever more varieties and greater quantities than ever before, contribute to the greater popularity of lotuses.

In sum, global communications greatly facilitate the beneficial blending of Eastern and Western Nelumbo culture. This combination in turn stimulates academic and commercial opportunities. The resulting East-West fusion sparks today’s lotus mania in public and private water gardens around the world.

C.B.T. info@watergardenersinternational.org

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