A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Perry's Giant Sunburst lotus in bloom

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day one from side 081315 640

 

During the night, the bud in the previous post completed its transformation into a flower. By morning, the green sepals had relaxed outward and downward, letting the pristine white petals expand and begin to open. Already, the flower is larger than many a grapefruit—and, yet, its fully-open form and size are still to come.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day one from above 081315 640

 

The rest of the day, the petals remain in place. The big reveal of the flower's mesmerizing and not-a-little-bit-creepy interior would wait until day two.

 

By the second morning, this flower of Nelumbo nucifera 'Perry's Giant Sunburst' is fully open. The bizarre flat-topped central structure, known as a receptacle, is stippled with several dozen pointy yellow pistils. Around the receptacle's base is the yellow ruff of lengthy pollen-coated anthers. As here, bees rarely leave a lotus unattended, and frolic amid the anthers almost as if bodysurfing at the beach.  

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day two from above with bee 081315 640

 

Pollen must land on the pistils to complete pollination. Each pistil leads to an ovary that, when fertilized, matures to a large round seed that remains held in place—almost like a prisoner in solitary confinement—within its own cell.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day two from side with bee 081315 640

 

Bees use the ring of anthers like a mosh-pit. Lotus flowers are so large that it's not unusual for three or four bees at once to be "bathing" in the anthers. But I've never seen one land atop the receptacle or, even, fly directly over it. The bees seem to approach the anthers from the side, at an angle, dive-bombing directly into them. 

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day one from full side 081315 640

 

How does pollen ever land on the pointed yellow pistils? And land it does: It's the norm that nearly all the cells of the receptacle bear seeds. Perhaps the bees' frenzy stirs up so much pollen that it's actually a cloud over the receptacle. Or maybe some of the pollen they collect becomes loose and airborn as their wings beat.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst flower day one receptacle from full side 081315 640

 

Some of the pollination probably happens in private at night. Later in the afternoon of the second day, the petals will return to their more vertical and enclosing positions, completely hiding the interior of the blossom. Lotus flowers produce heat, and the interior can be strikingly warm (above eighty degrees Fahrenheit even when the outside temperature is only in the fifties), especially when the enfolding petals slow down heat loss during the night. 

 

Beetles have always been understood to be the main nocturnal pollinator: Both they and Nelumbo are extraordinarily old, and evolved synergistically before bees even existed. Here, then, is how it was thought to have worked all those millions of years ago. Lured by the flower's pollen, fragrance, and warmth, beetles would become trapped for the night within the hot space enclosed by the blossom's huge, overlapping petals. Now, the upper surface of the receptacle might not just be unavoidable. It might be downright welcoming: The spot to be, the dance floor for night-long jitterbugging.

 

That was then. The morning of the third day after the white petals of my lotus blossom first emerged, it seems as if the party has been a real blow-out: Nearly all the petals have been shed, and most of the anthers, too. Sadly, it might have been a party to which none of those intended guests—the beetles—ever showed. It's been established that bees and flies now do the majority of lotus pollination. In my own garden, I've never seen beetles visiting my lotus blossoms. Then again, I've also never checked the inside of a flower after it had closed up that second night. The petals come back together in late afternoon, long before dusk, so there are several hours during which (somehow) I could part them and see if there's any pollinatory partying inside.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst day three flower with last petals anthers 081515 640

 

A nearby leaf functions as the giant slide...

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst day three cascade of shed parts 081515 640

 

...shunting the anthers and petals to the ground.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst day three shed petals on the grass 081515 640

 

By mid-morning, the receptacle is naked. Yellow when the flower was just opening, it has matured to pale green. Instead of a party platform, it is now a nursery for the developing seeds within.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst now naked receptacle 081515 cropped 640

 

In their own way, lotus seed pods are as interesting as the flowers—and far more enduring. Any given flower lasts two days, three at the most, whereas the seed pods dry naturally, still holding the large seeds captive within. Pods can last for years in an arrangement; the seeds themselves retain viability for centuries.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst now naked receptacle 081515 640

 

Happily, a bud has appeared above the water line. In a week or so, there will be another of these voluptuous but ephemeral flowers. Perhaps I can perform some "pollination party" sleuthing the day after the flower opens.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst 081615 fingers bud 640

 

Stay tuned.

 

 

Here's how exciting this iconic aquatic perennial is when "just" in leaf and in bud.

 

Here's how to grow Nelumbo, as well as a look at its massive and alarmingly vigorous chains of rhizomes.

 

Here's a look at the fireworky starburst of pink and white roots formed at the tip of each new rhizome.

 
 
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