August 13, 2014

Lurking in the Lotus

We have visited quite a few ponds in Ohio this summer, and many are full of an interesting aquatic plant called American lotus (Nelumbo lutea). 

In fact, some are so full of this plant that the entire surface of the water is covered, which can sometimes be a problem for park personnel who try to manage lakes for a variety of uses:

Although it looks quite exotic, American lotus is native to North America, as well as Mexico, Honduras and the Caribbean. There is speculation that it really is a southern plant, and because it was so useful Native Americans brought it north where it readily spread in ponds in temperate areas. The roots, shoots, leaves and seeds of the plant are all edible and the Native Americans may have relied on the starchy root to get them through the winter. The roots are banana shaped, thick and are up to a foot long.

The plant is easily distinguished from other aquatic plants because of its size and the fact that its leaves are not split like those of water lilies. 

The empty seed pods are often used in flower arrangements and the flower is absolutely stunning:

Recently we were at Adams Lake State Park, poking along the edge looking for dragonflies and other critters. Every now and then a green heron rose up out of the vegetation and flew off, squawking loudly till it found another perch. Looking around for other wildlife, we spotted some lotus leaves that had been absolutely skeletonized. We knew that there must be some caterpillars taking advantage of this abundant vegetation. 

Indeed, we spotted many larvae of the Henry's Marsh Moth, which is very plain as an adult but which has a fairly showy caterpillar:

These caterpillars can be voracious and eat a wide variety of aquatic plants. Clearly, there is plenty of lotus in this pond for lots of caterpillars!

Looking a bit more, we spotted this wasp consuming a smaller insect on the underside of a leaf:

Nearby we found this common true katydid hanging out on a lotus leaf:

These large insects typically sing from the treetops, so it was a bit unusual to see one on a pond. Common true katydids are probably the loudest of our nocturnal singing insects; here is a link to their "song" (scroll down and click on the wave form images to hear them).

Here is a final photo of a pond full of lotus. Not visible are legions of dragonflies, damselflies and many other insects going about their business of feeding, reproducing, and evading predators. The lovely red flowers in the background are swamp rose mallow, a plant that is often common in Ohio wetlands.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! As always, thank you. It was interesting to learn of the speculation that Native Americans spread the American lotus. I've seen those dried pods in flower arrangements but never knew their source. The photo of the katydid is amazing!