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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

"Nui", Lotus-Nelumbo nucifera

-4 Things you may not know about this Kauai plant

1. What is it? Nui is an aquatic perennial and is a member of the Lotus family and thought to be closely related to Protea. Lotus is often called a water lily, but differs from them most obviously with its ice-cream cone-shaped receptacle in the center of the flower. Lotus have rhizomes and grows in the mud of shallow bodies of fresh water. Its round leaves can be 31” or larger rising above the water atop 3-6' stalks. The petiole stalk attaches to the underside center of the leaf making the leaves look like inverted umbrellas. The Nui has a unique water-repellent leaf surface which means even dirt particles won't adhere, keeping the leaves looking always pristine. The fragrant, cupped flowers of the Lotus are truly remarkable, averaging anywhere from 8-12” in diameter, are borne on stems which rise above the leaves, and tend to be white, or pink, with the U.S. native being yellow. The flowers typically can last about 3 days, closing each evening. Each flower is followed by the cone-like pods. The cone's flat surface has seeds imbedded in each round indentation. Seeds are said to remain viable for many years with the oldest seed to germinate determined to be 1288 (plus or minus 250) years. Nui prefers full sun and calm water. The Lotus is somewhat tolerant of cold temps as long as water or roots to prevented from freezing. The plant goes dormant in cooler zones, coming back to life as spring arrives. It rhizomes continue to provide new keiki plants with offshoots.

2. Where did it come from? Lotus is native to Asia and Australia, but here is even a type of Lotus which is native to the U.S in regions of Minnesota to Oklahoma, Florida, and Mexico, Honduras, and the Caribbean. Nui was originally grown in Hawaii starting in the late 1800’s by the Chinese as a part of their Taro and Rice farm and the rhizomes were often seen for sale alongside the taro. The flower holds much sacred meaning in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The seeds are often eaten as snacks, roots/tubers are eaten steamed, fried, pickled, and braised. Leaves, stems and flowers are also eaten. Native Americans were believed to have carried Lotus with them as a food source in their northern migration. Nui has shown potential uses in wastewater treatment, removing pollutants and heavy metals. There is also a unique fabric called lotus silk which is derived from the plant fibers and is used mostly for sacred purposes.

3. When is the best time for collecting?

We have not collected these ourselves but have been gifted many dried pods by a friend who worked at NTBG. They are stored in open air containers indefinitely.

* After learning of the long viability of the seeds, I took all that I had in the pods and germinated them this last week-so will hopefully harvest from our own plants in the future!

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

The seed heads are prized for floral arrangements and I have even seen an example of the seeds being strung into a lei. We use the pods on both our baskets and pouches as a decorative element for their unique texture and appearance.

*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.

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