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Om Mani Padme Hum – the sacred lotus

Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं Om Mani Padme Hum (‘the gem of truth lies in the lotus’).

The lotus is an extraordinary plant; beautiful and mysterious. Seeds of this plant were still viable and successfully germinated, after lying dormant for over a thousand years (1,288 ± 271-yr-old) in an ancient lake bed at Pulantien, in Liaoning Province, China (1). Perhaps there are even seeds lying in some pond which were flowering when the Buddha walked the earth? I would like to think so. Or when Avalokitesvara (Lokesvara) of the Lotus Sutra existed. Avalokitesvara was the Buddha (Bodhisattva) of compassion, desperately striving to reach out – with his thousand arms – to all those unhappy beings in need of aid. I think we need him more than ever in our modern world.

Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokiteśvara holding lotus flowers.
Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokiteśvara holding lotus flowers.

The flowers, seeds, young leaves and rhizomes of the lotus plant are all edible, although I am ashamed to say that I have never tried them. Lotus flower buds are sold in large quantities in Thailand, as for example in Bangkok’s flower market: Pak Khlong Talad.

Lotus flower buds for sale in Bangkok (Pak Khlong talad)
Lotus flower buds for sale in Bangkok (Pak Khlong talad)

Another amazing property of this plant is its self-cleaning leaf surface. The water-repellent, microscopic structure of the leaf surface is such that any contaminating particles on the leaves are removed completely by water droplets that roll off the surfaces (2). This “Lotus-Effect” – a very high water repellent effect or superhydrophobicity – ensures that the plant remains clean and pure (2).

Computer graphic of a lotus leaf surface.
Computer graphic of a lotus leaf surface.

What other unknown properties does the plant possess?

Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
  1. Shen-Miller, J., et al. “Exceptional seed longevity and robust growth: ancient sacred lotus from China.” American Journal of Botany (1995): 1367-1380.
  2. “Purity of the sacred lotus, or escape from contamination in biological surfaces.” Planta 202.1 (1997): 1-8.



rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

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