People sometimes call them “water lilies,” but that term applies to a different plant species. The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), also known as Indian lotus, is a flowering tropical aquatic plant. Its roots are planted in the bottom of a pond or slow-moving stream while the leaves float on top of the water. The distance from the roots to the leaves may be around 5 feet (150 cm). The spread of the leaves may be about 10 feet (3 meters), and the flowers about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. Let’s examine some unusual properties of the sacred lotus.
One of the unusual features of this plant is its ability to regulate its flower temperature. Even if the air temperature drops to 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), the flower can remain at around 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). This temperature regulation can attract cold-blooded (ectothermic) insect pollinators to the flowers. Mammals and birds are warm-blooded (endothermic) because they produce heat by the oxidation of nutrients, but it’s very unusual for a plant to produce heat to warm itself.
That’s only one of the unusual properties of the sacred lotus. The plant is a perennial, meaning it survives from year to year. As long as the water remains, an individual lotus plant can last for many years. However, if the water dries up, the lotus seeds can survive for extended times. The sacred lotus often grows in river floodplains, where they deposit their seeds on the bottom. When the floodplain dries up, the seeds that wildlife don’t eat can become buried in dried mud. When water returns, the seeds germinate and grow to a new abundance of sacred lotus plants, even after a dormancy of hundreds of years. For example, a 1300-year-old lotus seed found in a dry Chinese lakebed germinated and grew after planting.
Another of the unusual properties of the sacred lotus is that even when it grows in dirty water, it remains clean. That’s because of what is known as ultrahydrophobicity (super water-repelling). People have noticed this property of the lotus plant for centuries, if not millennia. However, scientists could not explain it until the invention of scanning electron microscopes. The leaves are covered with microscopic (or nanoscopic) papillae (or bumps) with a waxy surface. These surface features cause the leaves to shed water aggressively. Water can’t wet the leaves, so the water’s surface tension forms spherical droplets that adhere to dirt and run off the leaves carrying the soil along with any harmful fungi and algae.
Science has imitated the lotus leaf surface to create paint that cleans itself in the rain, fabrics that shed water, and other products. This is only one of many “natural” inventions that people have copied and taken credit for, even though God actually invented them.
— Roland Earnst © 2022