Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.

Common Name: Sacred lotus

Synonyms and Other Names:

Asian lotus, Indian lotus

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Identification: Plants are obligate aquatic floating and emergent rooted perennials. Leaves float on the surface of the water or are held up to 2 m (6 ft) above the water by their petioles. Leaf blades are circular peltate (stem attached to the center of the leaf without a sinus or cleft), 0.2 - 1 m (0.75-2.5 ft) wide, waxy (hydrophobic), green, hairless, with smooth margins, centers depress towards the middle with veins radiating from center. Petioles (leaf stems) are light green, terete, hairless, smooth or slightly prickly, hollow chambers to keep the stems erect and convey oxygen to the root system. Flowers, held up 2 m (6 ft) above the water by peduncles, are 10-20 cm (4-8 in) wide, contain about 15 pink tepals (petals and sepals indistinguishable), a golden yellow receptacle, and a dense ring of golden stamens. The receptacle is in the center of the flower, is cone shaped, and has 15-35 short styles that look like small bumps. Each flower is replaced by a seedpod 7-10 cm (3-4 in) wide and 2 cm (0.75 in) deep. Seedpods become dark brown at maturity, bending down to release seeds, and individual seeds are exposed in small chambers.

Size: 1-2 m (3-6 ft) tall

Native Range: Eastern Asia (China and Thailand)

This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Table 1. States/provinces with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Nelumbo nucifera are found here.

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AL190119835Coosa-Tallapoosa; Lower Coosa; Middle Coosa; Middle Tombigbee-Lubbub; Mobile-Tensaw
AR198819881Ouachita Headwaters
CT190719071Outlet Connecticut River
FL196120176Aucilla; Everglades; Kissimmee; Oklawaha; Peace; Tampa Bay
HI201720182Kauai; Oahu
IL201220122Upper Sangamon; Vermilion
LA197819982Boeuf; Boeuf-Tensas
MA192820223Ashuelot River-Connecticut River; Charles; Outlet Connecticut River
MS197519751BigBlack - Homochitto
MO199719971Little River Ditches
NH202120221Merrimack River
NJ187620153Cohansey-Maurice; Crosswicks-Neshaminy; Sandy Hook-Staten Island
NY187620224Hudson-Wappinger; Middle Hudson; Sandy Hook-Staten Island; Southern Long Island
NC196820207Albemarle; Cape Fear; Fishing; Haw; Pee Dee; Upper Neuse; Upper Yadkin
OH199020224Cuyahoga; Lower Great Miami, Indiana, Ohio; Raccoon-Symmes; Upper Scioto
SC196819971Edisto-South Carolina Coastal
TN197020122Lower Clinch; Lower Cumberland
WV196320212Upper Ohio-Shade; West Fork

Table last updated 6/25/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for areas where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Ecology: Habitat includes shallow (0.3 - 1.0 m deep) ponds, lakes, slow-moving streams, rivers, reservoirs, freshwater tidal waters, and wetlands. This species prefers rich and fertile soils (Hyde silty loam, marl, and muck), and can tolerate acidic and alkaline waters. It requires full sunlight and summer temperatures above 25°C. Plants can grow up to 10 m in a year by vegetative spread from rhizomes. Flowers and fruits are observed from June to October, and take 5-6 years to reach maturity. Flowers are self-compatible, but also protogynous (styles mature before stamens) and thermogenic, creating heat for pollinators such as bees, flies, and beetles. Seeds can survive for hundreds and maybe thousands of years, requiring scarification to initiate germination (Les 2018).

Nelumbo are eaten by deer, beavers, muskrats, and porcupines, while ducks are known to eat the fruits (achenes). The leaves create shelter and shade for fish and invertebrates, including mosquitos. The freshwater bryozoan, Pectinatella magnifica, grows on the underside of floating leaves. The N. nucifera populations in North America host larvae of the moth, Psara obscuralis (Les 2018).

Means of Introduction: Initial introductions are intentional as water garden plants, and Nelumbo hybrids are cultivated, but the chance of hybridization in the wild is unknown. Secondary introductions likely occur naturally; the receptacles and fruits are buoyant and easily float downstream, while waterfowl can eat the fruits and carry them long distances (endozoochory) (Les 2018).

Nelumbo nucifera has a moderate probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Potential pathway(s) of introduction: Found in Lake Delavan, WI and is mostly eradicated but re-emerges occasionally. Seeds or rhizomes could be transported in equipment. This species is for sale from an Ohio nursery in the basin.

Status: Status: Not currently present in the Great Lakes.

Nelumbo nucifera has a high probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

A thriving population is found in Lake Delavan, WI (~30 miles from Great Lakes basin). This species prefers rich and fertile organic soils, full sun and high nutrients; but can tolerate low levels of salinity and stagnant conditions. Leaf area is positively correlated with temperature, day length, rainfall, relative humidity, chl-a, nitrates, and pH. This species has low tolerance to flooding and wave action (WI DNR). Populations expand rapidly; the Wisconsin population expanded from 15 x 100 ft to 52 x 163 ft in about one month (WI DNR).

Great Lakes Impacts: Nelumbo nucifera has the potential for high environmental impact if established in the Great Lakes.
Declines in macrophyte and invertebrate richness and diversity are associated with invasions by this species (Mastrantuono and Mancinelli 1999). Nelumbo nucifera can affect other wildlife by blocking access to the water and/or reducing plants the animals depend on for shelter and nesting (WI DNR).

Nelumbo nucifera has the potential for low socioeconomic impact if established in the Great Lakes.
The dense floating mats of vegetation can negatively affect boating, angling, and swimming (WI DNR).

Nelumbo nucifera has the potential for moderate beneficial impact if established in the Great Lakes.
Nelumbo nucifera roots, leaves, stems, seeds, and other parts are eaten in multiple different cuisines and is used in traditional Asian herbal medicine (WI DNR). Flowers are used as a perfume scent (WI DNR). Flowers are used in religious ceremonies in Buddhism (La-ongsri et al. 2009 in WI DNR). N. nucifera can absorb heavy metals and purifies water with industrial effluents (Goel et al. 2001 in WI DNR).

Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)

Nelumbo nucifera is not an approved species for the State of Illinois (515 ILCS 5/20-90). This species is unlisted in the state of Minnesota, therefore introduction is prohibited under MN Statute 84D.06. This species is listed as prohibited in Wisconsin.

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.


There are no known biological control methods for this species.

Very small populations can be controlled by pulling. To be most effective, this must be completed before flowering and seed set (MISIN 2016).

Approved aquatic herbicides may control populations and application requires permit (MISIN 2016).

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.

References (click for full reference list)

Author: Johnson, A., Pfingsten, I, and Lower, E.

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 3/9/2022

Citation for this information:
Johnson, A., Pfingsten, I, and Lower, E., 2024, Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI,, Revision Date: 3/9/2022, Access Date: 6/25/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.