Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gardening Tips and Tricks: Planting Lotus Seeds

The new semester has begun and I am back on campus. For much of the last week I was busy choosing classes, ordering text books, and running various senior thesis-related errands, hence my failure to post anything during the last couple days. However, I have been meaning to get this post up for over a week now, so I set it as my very first task for today. This is really a chronicle of a little horticultural experiment I carried out while at home during my break. Having read various accounts of people growing lotus plants (Nelumbo nucifera) from seeds contained in the lotus seed heads often used for dried floral arrangements, I decided to give it a try myself. The lotus is one of my favorite plants and I have long dreamt of growing it myself so I am not entirely sure why this did not occur to me earlier. In any case, here are some of the websites I have consulted for inspiration and guidance during this little project:,, and

The seeds on the first day

I went to a Michaels Craft Store to get myself some lotus pods to get started and actually ended up getting the last two they had in the store. They already looked a bit beaten up and were mounted on fake stems that are presumably more sturdy than the natural stems of the pods but they did contain fourteen seeds and cost only $3.99 so I decided to take them anyway.

After about a week the first seed begins to break open

Once I got home I broke open the seed heads to take out the seeds, which had been hot-glued into the pods. It took some effort to get off all the little shards of pod and even more scraping to get rid of as much of the glue as possible but after about half an hour the seeds were reasonably clean. Then I had to somehow nick the seeds' very hard seed coat. It is recommended that one do this so that the seeds can soak up water more quickly which in turn speeds up germination. At first I tried it with a nail file but I dramatically underestimated the toughness and the thickness of the shells of these seeds. In the end I used a rather coarse wood file from my dad's tool kit which worked relatively well, and filed a little hole into the shell of each seed until I could see the somewhat lighter layer underneath.
Within a few days, more seeds begin to germinate

Next I washed the seeds one more time with moderately warm water and them placed them in a bowl with warm water - not scalding hot but warm enough that it felt pleasantly warm to the touch. I used a glass bowl, mainly so that I would be able to watch the progress of the seeds from all sides but I am sure this is not a must.

After a week and a half, more than half the seeds are germinating

I then placed the bowl with seeds in a bright spot close to the window in my mom's office, which happens to be the warmest room in the house at this time of the year, with the temperature usually hovering around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 22 degrees Celsius). Pretty much all the accounts and instructions I found stressed the importance of warmth for germination, so I figured that room would be my best chance.
Once they appear, the sprouts get more vigorous by the day

The most important task once the seeds are "planted" is to change the water on a daily basis so that they do not begin to rot before they germinate. One should always use warm water and it is a good idea to rinse and rub the seeds a little when changing the water so that algae and microbes to not settle on the shell.
The little seedlings began to be a bit crowded so I divided them between two bowls

When germinating, the seeds begin cracking open lengthwise and a green shoot begins to emerge from one end which soon elongates, carrying a tiny rolled-up lily pad at its tip. For me, this began to happen about a week after I had first put the seeds in water but apparently it can happen much faster under warmer conditions.
Out of fourteen seeds all but two germinated

Within a few days of the first seed cracking all but two of the seeds started sending out shoots. Do not be alarmed that the seeds only seem to send out leaves; it appears that they develop about three leaf shoots before roots begin to form on the little stem just outside the seed.
The petioles of the first little leaves keeps elongating while the second and third leave are already emerging - soon these will be ready to be potted.

When roots begin to develop the seedlings are ready to be planted in soil. For this one should choose sufficiently large containers, such as buckets or very large bowls, and a heavy, loamy soil, not potting soil rich in peat moss and other organic materials. The little plants need a sufficient water depth since the first leaves will float on the water like normal lily pads so the containers have to be deep enough to accommodate a good 6" (ca. 15cm) or so of soil as well as 6-8" (ca. 15-20cm) of water. Unfortunately I did not get to pot my seedlings before I left so this task now falls to my parents but I am nevertheless excited to find out how my little lotus seedlings will progress...


  1. I never thought of seed shopping at Michaels. How clever of you! I hope you'll keep us posted, I am eager to see the bloom color.

    Christine in Alaska

  2. When the weather gets cold will the plants be OK indoors ? Do they need a mini water pond or bucket ? They will probably freeze and die here in the Northeast USA ?

    1. The plants go dormant in cold weather. In a proper, in-ground pond they will be ok outside, provided the rhizomes are under the ice. In a container, the dormant root system is best overwintered moist - but not waterlogged - in a dark room kept just above freezing, like a garage.


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