The Chinese lotus flower, also sometimes called the sacred lotus, is known scientifically as Nelumbo nucifera, and is thus the true Lotus. It is a flowering plant that is native to Asian countries, where it grows from the bottom of ponds. In common with many other flowers and animals (such as plum, Chrysanthemum, Crane and Dragon), the Lotus Flower has great symbolic meaning and thus plays an important role in the everyday lives of many Chinese people.
The plant comes in a variety of colours and has a waxy green leaf. The different colours give the Lotus different meaning in different cultures (See: Lotus Flower Colour Meaning. They can grow anywhere from three to six feet tall, and may reach up to four feet wide.
The Lotus flower represents the sixth month of the year in Chinese symbolisms and thus is also representative for the summer.
The plants bloom in the summer, and their leaves can be seen just above the ponds surface. The lotus fully blooms in the morning and then folds up at night hiding itself beneath the pond surface until the next morning. The lotus is of the utmost importance in Chinese culture for numerous reasons, including religious symbolism, marriage symbolism, and food usage.
Lotis growing in a river in Luoyang, China. Photograph by Karney Hatch, CC
In Buddhism, which is the primary religion of China, the lotus acts as a spiritual symbol in many ways. Indeed the Lotus plant represents one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism.
Buddha himself is said to have arrived on Earth sitting on top of a floating Lotus, and as he walked, left footprints that became lotus flowers.
Buddhism also has assigned spiritual meaning to certain colours of lotus flowers; for instance, a white lotus is a symbol of purity and a yellow lotus flower is a symbol of ascension.
The growth of a lotus also has spiritual significance for the religion. Since the flower grows in seemingly less than desirable conditions blooming from mud in the bottom of a pond and re-emerging unscathed every morning from beneath the dirty water, the Lotus is seen a symbol for resurrection and unwavering faith.
It is the central culprit behind the Buddhist proverb which states that living life with unwavering faith, as the lotus does, ensures the most beautiful of revivals.
Buddhists further believe that each part of the flower represents a part of life. There are three parts including the fruit, flower, and stalk which in turn represent the past, the present, and the future.
Taoism is the second major religion practiced in China where the Chinese lotus flower has significance. Believers of this religion accept that the earth is reigned over by eight immortals. One of these immortals is Ho Hsien Ku. The symbol for this immortal being is an open lotus flower which symbolizes wisdom and openness.
In Taoism, the lotus is used on artwork throughout the religion to symbolize beauty, life, and light.
It is also painted so that followers can see it and remember their place in the world according to the Tao.
For all people of Chinese culture, the lotus is symbolic of love and beauty. Therefore, it is a popular flower to use in Chinese weddings.
Often the lotus flower decorations to be seen will be two flowers on one stalk. This is often seen as a representation of the couple, two people with a strong bond between them.
The root is used to decorate as a symbolism for partnership.
Lastly, lotus seeds are used for decoration because they are a sign of fertility. It is believed this will lead to the couple having a big family.
Chinese culture also uses the lotus as a food source, since all parts of the plants can be eaten. The seeds of the plant can be eaten dried, roasted or raw. The stalk of the plant is potato like in nature and can be eaten on its own. However, it is often seen with holes poked into it and then stuffed with some sort of meat filling.
The flower of the lotus is a popular choice in the markets of China to wrap items in before selling.
In particular parts of China around the New Year, the plant is made into a jelly-like candy that is very sweet. There are a number of other culinary uses for this sacred plant as well. Many parts of the plant are also used in the production of medication and used in herbal treatments.
Due to its significance in religion, the lotus became an important part of culture when poets and artists alike began using it in their work.
There are many famous Lotus Flower Chinese paintings that depict the lotus as a centrepiece or focal point. While much Chinese poetry uses the lotus as a symbol for comparison to people, love and relationships.
It is easy to see why the lotus is so important to the culture of Chinese people. They hold the flower sacred and it is not difficult to see why, as it defies nature in many ways. The plant is so beautiful and pure that it would be hard to believe if it did not have any cultural meaning and significance.