In Praise of the Pod

For some reason, fall, winter, and even spring are not considered part of the Lotus season.  It is true that the plants produce those huge circular leaves and mega-blooms during the summertime and that one of the best times to photograph an American Lotus, at least along the Lake Erie shore, is in early August when the plants are supposedly at their peak of beauty. But, I use the term supposedly because a.) I like the word and try use it as frequently as possible and b.) because Lotuses really don’t have an “off” season. By this I mean the fall/winter seed pods certainly rival the fascination quotient of the summer flowers.

The whole purpose behind those magnificent summer flowers, after all, is the production of seed pods. It can be argued, as I am here, that those magnificent showerhead seed pods are the peak production product of the American Lotus. The flowers are merely ephemeral brushes, or chisels, used in the making of a final artistic product. I am fairly sure that if you ask a Lotus what it is most proud of, it would say “why, my seed heads of course, you spatterdock you.” (spatterdock is a derisive term used among Lotuses – something like “poopyhead” in our tongue).  Fortunately lotuses don’t really talk to sane people and therefore are unable to insult most folks. But, isn’t the fact obvious! Lotus seedpods, and the seeds contained therein, are the pinnacle of Lotus art. You’ll note the repetitious use of the underlined are as a cheap literary trick (often employed by spatterdocks such as myself).

This was a banner year for the lotus plant in western Lake Erie. The beds were as expansive as ever and the individual plants were as robust as ever. There is no need to underline this fact because the robust pods that resulted out of this year are emphasis enough. I present, as an example, some of the pods which came out of the Plum Creek estuary. These are some of the largest Lotus pods that I’ve ever seen. Some of these seed heads were over 8 inches across (see below). They were expanded beyond expected limits to the point of being moon-faced and nearly semi-circular.

Structurally these heads are basically stemmed cones with seed receptacles on top. The individual pockets which house the seeds, are arranged into 2-3 concentric circles starting with a center cluster. A wrinkled lip surrounds the crater field. Most of these gigantic examples exhibited 35-37 craters but a few perfect miniatures, only a few inches across, had only 10 or 11 misshapen craters. Some had already shed their seed crop and their empty holes were filled with ice and  coated with fresh fallen snow. Others retained a heavy load of blue-gray seeds yet to be distributed as God intended. After a few more trips back and forth over the rising and falling waters these too will eventually cast off their load to the rich mucky bottom.

Lotus pods are durable and woody but winter tends to tear them to shreds. By the advent of the following spring they remain only as tattered remnants. Even these remnants will be completely gone by the time the summer shift returns. Their job is to float the seeds as far as possible from the mother bed. Once they’ve accomplished their task they serve no other purpose other than art. A few always manage to find themselves onto mantles and into dried flower arrangements where they will last practically forever. But, no matter how long the artful pods are allowed to survive, even with a coat of varnish or gold paint, the seeds will always outdo their pods.

The end of the pod phase means the beginning of a phase which pays no attention to seasonal whims.  Lotus seeds are among the longest surviving seeds on the planet. They are coated with a flinty hard shell which is impervious to both air and water. Only scarification (essentially cracking) will allow the inner embryo to grow. They can lie dormant for decades- over 200 years is an oft-repeated figure for the American Lotus. The seeds of the closely related Sacred Lotuses of Asia have proven to be viable after some 400 years (466 years to be exact) with claims supposedly exceeding 1,000 years! See, there’s that word again, supposedly. I use it because there is really no way to know just how long a lotus seed can last. It is safe to say that they last a very very very long time. The seeds are not intended for immediate use but are meant to be time capsules which carry genes into the distant future.

Have lotuses achieved near immortality in both art and life? I could say that supposedly they have, but one thing is certain – the season of the Lotus never really ends.


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