Nelumbo lutea

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: American lotus 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Nelumbonaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 10
Height: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: Pale yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Water Plant, Naturalize, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy, Fragrant


Easily grown in organically rich loams in calm water margins in full sun. Winter hardy to USDA Zone 4 as long as the roots do not freeze (i.e., water does not freeze down to the roots). For water gardens or small ponds, plant roots in large containers or planting baskets with up to 24” of water covering the crowns. Container grown plants are easier to control and, if desired, to move to other locations. For naturalizing in larger ponds, roots may be anchored directly in the muddy bottom near the water margin where, once established, they will spread and colonize. In fall, containers submerged in very shallow water (less than 6”) should be moved into deeper water or brought indoors (basement, root cellar or other frost-free area) for overwintering.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Nelumbo lutea, called American lotus, yellow lotus and water chinquapin, is a large-flowered marginal aquatic perennial that typically grows 3-6’ tall in shallow water and spreads, sometimes aggressively, by thickened rhizomes rooted in the mud. It is native from New York and Ontario west to Minnesota and south to Florida and Texas plus Mexico, Central America, Columbia and the West Indies. In Missouri, it is most commonly found in oxbow lakes and sloughs in the floodplains of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries (Steyermark). This unusual plant features rounded, parasol-like, upward-cupped, waxy green leaves (to 2’ across) that appear above the water on long petioles which attach at the middle of the leaf underside (peltate). Large, cupped, fragrant, pale yellow flowers (8-12” diameter) appear in summer on stiff stems above the foliage. Each flower has a distinctive showerhead-like central turbinate (inversely conical) receptacle (2-3” diameter) consisting of pistil-containing cavities. Each flower blooms for about three days, opening in the morning and closing at night each day. After bloom, nut-like fruits begin to form imbedded in the flat surface of the receptacle. Receptacles turn brown, harden and acquire a woody-like texture as they dry (suggestive of wasps’ nests). Eventually the receptacle breaks off and falls into the water where it floats as it slowly disintegrates, distributing its seed as it goes. The young leaf stalks/leaves, the rootstock and the seeds were eaten by native Americans. Colonies of this plant provide excellent habitat and shelter for wildlife. N. lutea (American lotus) of the Americas is very similar in appearance to N. nucifera (sacred lotus) of Asia and Australia, except the former has yellow flowers and the latter has pink flowers.

Genus name comes from the Sinhalese name.

Specific epithet means yellow.


No serious insect or disease problems. Aphids and red spider mites are occasional pests (fish can help control these, however). Watch for blights.


Flowers, seed receptacles and foliage are all unique, attractive and interesting additions to a water garden or pond. Seed receptacles are popular additions to dried flower arrangements.