Classif.Nat. Order of Nymphacea. Polyandria Polygyria L.
Genus NELUMBIUM. Calix petaloid, four to six leaved. Many unequal petals and stamina. Torus or receptacle, turbinate, spongy, truncate, bearing above many pistils immersed in cells, each pistil becoming a large nut. Roots creeping, bearing many radical peltated leaves and uniflore scapes.
Sp. Nelumbium luteum. W. Petioles and scapes terete and rough, leaves peltate, orbicular, entire, smooth, and flat, calix five leaved, unequal, many rows of elliptic petals, exterior shorter, anthers appendiculated.
Description. Roots perennial, creeping, cylindrical, brownish, white inside, fleshy and knobby. Leaves radical, on long cylindrical rough and spongy petioles, orbicular, entire, peltate, centre like a knavel, a little excentric, from which radiate many branched nerves beneath; above of a fine green, perfectly smooth. Petioles from three to five feet long, limbus floating on the water from six to twenty inches in diameter. Scapes uniflore, similar to the petioles, flower pale yellow, from six to eight inches in diameter, and erect above water. Calix small, with ovate obtuse folioles, corolla with many imbricate petals on several rows, the inner ones largest, elliptic, obtuse; stamina numerous, yellow, surrounding the torus, and shorter, filaments linear, anthers adnate below the end, so as to leave a linear appendage at the end; central torus spongy, becoming the fruit, and then large, three to four inches diameter, obconical sulcated, summit truncate, flat, with a waved margin, and having many perforated cells, containing nuts of an elliptic shape, with the persistent short style and obtuse stigma, as big as filberts, of a black colour, but white inside.
History. This beautiful genus is known from the most remote antiquity, as a holy emblem of the fecundity of nature, has only lately been properly designated. Linnaeus hardly knew it, since he united it to Nymphea. Jussieu distinguished and named it properly, from one of its Hindu names. Several English and American botanists have since attempted to change the name into Cyamus, (meaning a bean) already the name of a crustaceous animal. If good local names are to be changed, we ought to change also Coffea, Yucca, &c. There are several species in Asia, blended under the name of N. indicum, with rose, blue, and white blossoms. Ours is not a variety of it, but a peculiar species. We have three or four species in North America; the others are
2. N. codophyllum. Raf. in Flor. Louis. Petioles rough, furrowed inside, thicker above; leaves peltate campanulate, tomentose beneath, calyx four leaved. First described by Robin, who gave a long account of it under the name of Napoleon plant; admitted by Decandolle. Flowers yellow.
3. N. pentapetalum. Walter. Leaves peltate, orbicular, entire, calix five leaved, five to eight petals; Considered a doubtful species by many, but I have found it again in west Kentucky; it has yellow leaves also, calix equal, from five to eight petals nearly so, concave, smaller than in N. luteum.
4. N. reniforme. Walter. Leaves reniform, corolla polypetaious. Doubtful, seen only by Walter, probably a Nuphar.
Our N. luteum offers several varieties: 1. Pallidum, flowers of a straw colour. 2. Albiflorum, flowers white. 3. Maculatum, yellow flowers, with rusty spots. 4. Undulatum, with waved leaves. 5. Levigatum with petioles and scapes nearly smooth.
The Asiatic species are called Lianhua by the Chinese, Padma in the Sanscrit language, Nelumbo in Malabar: formerly the sacred Lotus or Bean of Egypt. The Hindus gods are represented sitting on them: in their mythology they were the first plants that sprung on the waters covering once the whole earth, and gave birth to many gods. They were the mystical bean of Pythagoras. The Chinese also venerate them as sacred plants. Cultivated in China and India for food and beauty. They all grow in lakes and ponds only.
Our American species are also deemed holy plants by some tribes of Indians, who feed on them likewise. They are called Terowa and Taluwa by the Otos and Quapaws. The N. codophyllum is peculiar to Louisiana, while the N. luteum is spread from New Jersey and Carolina to the Mississippi river and beyond it, in lakes, ponds, deep swamps, bayous, and ditches. As it is scarce in the Atlantic States, it is said to have been planted in some ponds by the Indians. It ought to be cultivated for beauty and use in all our ponds, which it would embellish and utilize. It is difficult to transplant unless the roots are taken in large portions, or the capsules and seeds buried in the mud when quite fresh. But when once rooted, it lasts forever, the roots creep deeply in the mud, and extend twenty or thirty feet. It thrives in Bartram's garden. The seeds germinate in the capsule, which was used as a Rattle by the Florida Indians in the Maraca or Rattle worship. The blossoms have a sweet smell, somewhat like Nymphea odorata, they open only in the middle of the day, shutting at night and in cloudy weather in the shape of an egg. They blossom in summer.
Properties. Alike in all the Asiatic and American species. The roots, leaves, and nuts are edible, cooling, laxative, diuretic, emollient, &c. The Chinese and Hindoos make many dishes with them. The roots have some acrimony when raw, which they lose by roasting or boiling: they taste like Artichoke and Colocasia or Edoes. A kind of bread and cakes are made with them; the Otos like them very much. The petioles and young leaves may be eaten as greens; but the nuts are chiefly valued, even in our country; children, negroes and Indians collect them for use under the name of water chincapins. They are as good as filberts and chesnuts even raw, cooling, and rather laxative; but still better when roasted. The Chinese make preserves with them. They are said to check emesis and diarrhoea, to produce diuresis and be anti-crotic. The leaves are very cooling and emollient applied to the head and skin; the upper surface can never be wetted, water runs out of it like quicksilver: those of the N. codophyllum are used as a kind of cool hat by hunters and negroes: they hold rain water pure for a while in their hollow.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, Vol. 2, 1830, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.