The history of water or aquatic plants dates back many thousands of years in ancient Egypt, India and China. In addition to their natural beauty, plants like the waterlily and the lotus played significant roles in religion, medicine and folklore. Water plants remain an important part of the horticulture of the world today, being cultivated and admired in many countries.
The ancient Egyptians discovered the benefits of the lotus as a food source, manufacturing flour from the sun-dried roots. Lotus petals were uncovered in the tomb of Ramses II during an excavation in 1881, suggesting that the lotus was an integral element of life in Egypt about 5,000 years ago. The lotus flower was believed to enfold the sun god, Ra, in a legend of creation.
The Egyptian white lotus (Nymphaea) and the blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) were elements of Egyptian art through the centuries. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was excavated in 1922, the blue lotus was found scattered over the pharaoh’s body. The blue lotus served as a health tonic, but it reportedly also produced hallucinatory effects.
India & Asia
In India, the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is the national flower. It is considered a sacred symbol in the Hindu faith usually represented with Indian deities, and a prominent ornament in Hindu temples and religious articles. The Lotus Goddess, Lakshmi, also known as Kamala among other names, is portrayed carrying lotuses in reliefs dating back to about 200 B.C.E.
The lotus flower is associated with enlightenment and purity, a symbol of living an untainted life. It is also a traditional source of food and medicine. Lotus seeds, for example, are used to treat kidney, spleen and heart disorders. In India, China, Japan and Korea, the seeds, flowers, leaves and rhizomes of the lotus are considered as edible and used to manufacture foods and teas.
Two visionary Frenchmen deserve credit for their achievements in waterlily history, the former in cultivating the waterlily, and the latter in immortalizing it in waterscapes. During the mid-1800s, Joseph Marliac developed several successful waterlily hybrids. Marliac worked at his family-owned nursery which had springs that made watergardening a natural process.
The white waterlily (Nympha alba), owes much to the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840 to 1926). In 1893, Monet built a water garden at his Giverny property, where he created his famous paintings of waterlilies. Monet’s series of waterscapes, which he started in 1895, set out to capture the effects of light at different hours of the day.
Based in the United States,The International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society (IWGS) is “dedicated to the furtherance of all aspects of water gardens and their associated plants.” Among the events organized by the society is an annual new waterlily competition. IWIGS and the King Rama IX Park in Thailand have announced the addition of the Thai Certified Collection of Waterlilies and Lotus, in Bangkok.
For anyone who is interested in creating a water garden, there are many beautiful varieties of water plants from which to make suitable choices.