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Lotus sacré (Nelumbo nucifera) © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura
Lotus sacré (Nelumbo nucifera) © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura

Indian lotus

A stunning aquatic plant, the sacred lotus is the national flower of India. This water lily has some incredible properties, both nutritional (it is completely edible) and hydrophobic (water simply slides off its leaf), as well as symbolic. The sacred lotus blossoms in early July.

Identity Card

Common name
Indian lotus, Sacred lotus, Bean of India
Binominal name
Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.


Nymphaea nelumbo L.

Detailed Informations

Area of origin
Tropical and temperate Asia, Queensland Australia


Nelumbo is the name of the plant in Sinhalese language (Sri Lanka); nucifera is from Latin ‘nux’: nut & ‘-fera’: producing.

Description and flowering period

This aquatic perennial can live up to 2 meters under the surface of the water. Its rhizome (horizontal underwater stem growing in the mud) is thick, spongy and densely ramified. The leaves are round, peltate (the leaf-stalk is attached to the centre of the leaf) and slightly wavy. They can reach 50cm in diameter and are either floating or reaching up to 60cm above the water. When so, they become slightly Y-shaped. Raindrops glide on their surface which has water-repellent properties. Borne by lengthy peduncles (flower-stalks) reaching well above the leaves, the flower, reaching 15 to 30cm in diameter, has 20 or so pink or white petals, very numerous stamens and its gynoecium (female reproductive organs) consists of a yellow flattened carpellary receptacle. Flowers are capable of producing heat to maintain a temperature of 30 to 36°C in order to better attract insects who act as pollinators. Shaped like a spout of a watering can, the fake-fruit is in fact a fleshy flower receptacle with around 15 alveoli each containing an achene (dry fruit which does not open on its own and contains a single seed).


The sacred lotus prefers warm climates yet it can be successfully cultivated in places where winter temperatures reach down to -15°C providing the rhizome is planted at a depth of at least 1 meter underwater.


  • Ornamental.
  • Food & drink: All parts of the plant are edible. Petals are used as garnish or brewed along with stamens and leaves to make herbal-tea; flower-stalks can be stir-fried or used in soups and in salads; the rhizomes (lotus roots) can be used in soups, stir-fried or turned into lotus-starch; seeds can be eaten raw, roasted or turned into a paste for baking.
  • Medicinal: Lotus roots are rich in trace elements, vitamin B and fibres and are used in Chinese folk medicine for their slimming properties and to treat diabetes. The seeds are used as an antioxidant.
  • Miscellaneous: The leaves are used as plates, the dried fruits are used in flower arrangements and the whole plant is invaluable to the cosmetics industry.


The sacred lotus has great cultural significance throughout Asia (arts, architecture, poetry…), where it is emblematic of Buddhism (lightness and purity of the flower which elevates itself like the Buddha) and Hinduism (where it is the emblem of divinities such as Vishnu and symbolises the fulfilment of the soul). The seed has exceptional longevity: 1300 year old seeds have been able to germinate successfully.

Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN

 Lotus sacré (Nelumbo nucifera) - Jardin botanique Val Rahmeh-Menton © MNHN - Christophe Joulin
Lotus sacré (Nelumbo nucifera) © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura
Lotus sacré (Nelumbo nucifera) © MNHN - Agnès Iatzoura

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