How to Classify Lotus

What do lotus flowers and leaves look like?
How are lotus flowers described?
How are lotus plants divided into categories?

In China, lotus are classified based on four characteristics:

1) Plant Height:
 *exquisites  - smallest of bowl lotus 
                           *bowl  - less than 13” 
                           *dwarf or small  - 1'-2’ 
                           *medium  - 2'-4’ 
                           *large  - over 4'

2) Flower Diameter

3) Flower Type:
                          *single or few-petal - less than 25 petals
                          *semi-double - 25-50 petals
                          *double or multi-petal  - more than 50 petals

4) Flower Color:

                          *changeable - color changes as flower matures
                          *versicolor - more than one color on the same flower
                                  There are two typical patterns for versicolor flowers.
                                       1) Two colors, usually white with red tipped petals (red-tipped)

                                         2) Three colors, Sino-American hybrids, called tri-colors,
                                            that are white, yellow and red

Flower color is based on the color of the first day flower as identified by the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Wheel. Many lotus flowers will change color each day until the petals drop so the color of a newly opened lotus flower may be quite different from the color later in the bloom cycle.

Elegance showing bud, first day flower, and fully-opened flower
                                                                                                                                              ' Elegance' with bud, first day flower and fully opened flower


5) Flower Shape:

The vast variation in flower color and shape, while making the lotus one of the most popular ornamental and cultivated plants in Asia, has also made it difficult to develop a standard system of identification.

Classification is further complicated because the final size of a lotus is determined by many factors, including the amount of sunlight, the size of the container or growing area, and the amount of fertilization available.


How big does lotus grow?
While the maximum size of a mature lotus plant is determined by genetics there can be a vast size difference in plants of the same variety that can be attributed to available growing area as shown in the photograph below. In general, lotus with plenty of space to grow will be larger than plants of the identical variety grown in smaller containers.

Pot size can determine size of mature plant
                                                                          Tubers from the same 'Sparks' parent plant were potted on the same day into different size pots.

Researchers at Auburn University have worked in conjunction with Chinese horticulturists and the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society to develop a uniform system of identification for known ornamental cultivars based on plant size, flower color and flower form.


Suggested New Identification System 

For PLANT SIZE, a simple system using the classifications of miniature, small, medium, and large has been suggested.

Miniature - less than 16 cm (6")
Small - 18-46 cm (7"-18")
Medium - 47-91 cm (19"-36")
Large - more than 92 cm (over 36")

The categories suggested for FLOWER TYPE are more descriptive than the Chinese categories.

Single - less than 25 petals
Semi-double - 25-50 petals
Multi-petal - more than 50 petals
Thousand-petal  - many petals   


Dr. Diake Tian, PhD, describes the category of thousand-petal as a special case of double flower form. It is a particularly useful term in horticulture because this concept presents a good image of the flower when the number of petals ranges from several hundred to one thousand or even more. It is a concept with strong background in Chinese culture. It means the flower has many petals, many more than the normal double flower lotus. Here a thousand is not exactly equal to 1000!


There are five flower shapes that describe the mature flower in both systems. 

Plate - petals open horizontally to form flat plate-like shape
Bowl - petals open wide around receptacle before curving up like a bowl
Cup - petals curve up like a cup
Ball - petals overlap to form a ball
Flying/dancing - petals are held in an irregular array around receptacle

You will find the lotus in our Shopping Cart classified using elements from both systems.


Dr. Ken Tilt, PhD, from Auburn works with Bill to monitor growth of lotus

for a research project conducted by the university to study the possibilities

of forcing lotus in greenhouses for the commercial market.






Ten Mile Creek Nursery
specializes in presenting a fresh new selection of lotus intended for growing in containers to be used in ornamental ponds or on your patio. For those with even more limited space,
we recommend an exquisite of bowl lotus. These are bred by the Chinese to be grown in the smallest containers, less than 11” in diameter, although they will grow in larger containers as well.




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