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Nelumbo nucifera (sacred lotus)

Revered as a divine symbol for more than 5,000 years, the sacred lotus is a truly iconic plant.
Photo of Nelumbo nucifera (sacred lotus)

Sacred lotus flower

Species information

Scientific name: 

Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn

Common name: 

sacred lotus, Indian lotus

Conservation status: 

Not yet evaluated against IUCN criteria.


Warm-temperate to tropical climates, in a range of shallow (up to about 2.5 m deep) wetland habitats, including floodplains, ponds, lakes, pools, lagoons, marshes, swamps and the backwaters of reservoirs.

Known hazards: 

None known, although Nelumbo nucifera contains some alkaloids, such as nuciferine, aporphine and armepavine.


Genus: Nelumbo

About this species

An aquatic perennial with large showy flowers, the sacred lotus has long been considered a close relative of water lilies. However, lotus flowers differ markedly from those of water lilies, most notably through the obconical (ice-cream cone-shaped) receptacle in the centre, into which numerous free carpels are sunken. Recent molecular research has shown that the closest living relatives of the sacred lotus are the plane trees (Platanus spp., Platanaceae) and members of the protea family (Proteaceae). Their isolated phylogenetic position indicates that both Nelumbo and Platanus may be living fossils (the only survivors of an ancient and formerly much more diverse group).


The sacred lotus has deep religious meaning to Hindus and Buddhists, to whom the lotus flower symbolises beauty, purity and divinity. In Hinduism the sacred lotus represents the sun, and is associated with mother goddesses as a symbol of fertility. 

Nelumbo nucifera has been in cultivation in China for more than 3,000 years, and has been grown not only for its cultural and ornamental value, but also for medicinal uses and for its edible ‘seeds’ and rhizomes. In China, Japan and India, for example, the rhizomes are roasted, pickled, candied or sliced and fried as chips. A paste made from the nutlets is used as a filling in ‘mooncakes’, traditional Chinese pastries.

The young leaves, leaf stalks and flowers are eaten as vegetables in India.


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