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Nelumbo nucifera

Sacred Lotus, Teratai/Seroja (Malay)

patch of lotusThe plant has its roots firmly in the mud and sends out long stems to which their leaves are attached. The leaves are sometimes, and flowers always, raised above the water surface. The beautiful and fragrant flower opens in the morning and petals fall in the afternoon.

The fruits are a conical pod with seeds contained in holes in the pod. Nucifera means "having hard fruit". When the seeds are ripe, they become loose in the pod. The pod then tips down towards the water, releasing the seeds.

The Lotus grows best in calm freshwater and blooms year round in Singapore.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Grows in freshwater.

Leaves: Large floating (60cm across), without serrated edges, sometimes held above water.

Flowers: Large (35cm across); solitary; held above the water; colour pink, rose or white; fragrant; blooms for one day only.
seed pod with ripening seeds
Fruits: Develops above water. A conical structure with seeds, each in its own socket.

Status in Singapore: Common.

World distribution: Native to the Asian subcontinent from Persia to China and Japan.

Classification: Family Nymphaeaceae.
Uses as food: The seeds are eaten; unripe and raw, or ripe and cooked. They are a popular ingredient in local desserts like "cheng teng". The rhizomes are also eaten. These are long sausage shaped with hollow portions and are connected like sausages on a string. They are boiled in soup; candied as a dessert; or pickled. The petioles and young roots are also eaten. The large circular leaves may be used to wrap food such as in lotus rice. The plant has been cultivated in China since the 12th century BC.

Traditional medicinal uses:
The rhizomes or leaves are used with other herbs to treat sunstroke, fever, diarrhoea, dysentery, dizziness, vomiting of blood, haemorrhoids. The whole plant is used as an antidote to mushroom poisoning.
Seeds: The embryonic seeds for high fever, cholera (Chinese), nervous disorders and insomnia; the seeds to stop vomiting, relieve indigestion and diarrhoea or just as a tonic.
Flowers: pounded petals for syphilis; for cosmetic unguents (Java); the flower stalk with other herbs to treat bleeding from the uterus.
Fruit: the pods contain alkaloids that stop bleeding.
To Buddhists, the flower represents the perpetual cycles of reincarnation. Buddha is said to be born in the heart of a lotus flower and he is often depicted sitting in a lotus flower or on its leaf. The Hindus associate the flower with the creation of the world. In Japan, it is also held as a symbol of purity and beauty. In Ancient Egypt, another species (Nymphaea lotus) was also a strong symbol in daily and religious life.

bittern on a lotus leaf stemRole in the habitat:
Lotus leaves shade the water keeping it cool and thus allowing for more dissolved oxygen. The plant also provides hiding places for small aquatic creatures, which in turn attract predators such as Bitterns (see right).

  To buy these references & others, visit
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  • Ivan Polunin, "Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions, 1987 (p. 68: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
  • Wee Yeow Chin, "A Guide to Medicinal Plants", Singapore Science Centre, 1992 (p. 108: description, chemical compounds, uses).
  • Dr E Soepadmo (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Plants", Aquatic Flowering Plants by Cheksum Supiah Tawan, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 72-73: traditional medicinal uses)
  • Prof S. Talalaj, "The Strangest Plants in the World", Hill of Content, 1991 (p. 120-121: description, history, distribution, photo).
By Ria Tan, 2001