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American lotus is an emergent aquatic plant. It grows in lakes and swamps, as well as areas subject to flooding. The roots are anchored in the mud, but the leaves and flowers emerge above the water's surface. The petioles of the leaves may extend as much as 2 m (6.6 ft) and end in a round leaf blade 33–43 cm (13–17 in) in diameter. Mature plants range in height from 0.8 to 1.5 m (2.6 to 4.9 ft).
The species is widely planted in ponds for its foliage and flowers. American Lotus spreads via creeping rhizomes and seeds. This species has been crossed with N. nucifera to create many hybrids. Seeds may be propagated by scarifying the pointed tip of the seed with a file then soaking in water. Propagation is also possible by division of established plants. The large acorn like seeds of American lotus are utilized by some ducks and other wildlife. Beavers and muskrats will consume the rhizomes. Submerged portions of all aquatic plants provide habitats for many micro and macro invertebrates. These invertebrates in turn are used as food by fish and other wildlife species (e.g. amphibians, reptiles, ducks, etc.). After aquatic plants die, their decomposition by bacteria and fungi provides food (called “detritus”) for many aquatic invertebrates.
American lotus is an aquatic plant that can cover large areas. Flowers are held singly above water on long stalks, with 20 or more sepals and petals, light yellow, to 8 inches across, with a central elevated receptacle resembling a showerhead. Blooms June–September. Leaves are blue-green, shed water, normally held above water level on long stems (young leaves float), circular, extremely variable in size, to 2 feet wide, with the stem attached in the center. The receptacle, to 5 inches wide, starts out soft and yellow and becomes brown and woody as the seeds ripen. Seeds are acornlike, anchored in deep pits. Occurs in oxbow lakes, sloughs, and ponds, preferring still waters with a mud bottom. Although American lotus regularly produces seeds, it spreads mainly through its thick rhizomes that grow along the pond bottom. Despite its ornamental qualities, American lotus should not be introduced into most fishing ponds. Lotus spreads rapidly in shallow water and can soon completely cover a pond. (Source: mdc.mo.gov)