July 29, 2023
A few weeks back we were driving past a pond when we spotted large, floating flowers we thought might be American lotus. They were far enough out from a reed-rimmed shore that even in our rubber boots we couldn’t get close enough to make sure.
Back home, a little research revealed that they had been simply large water lilies, but we were hooked. We had to find American lotus, our state’s largest native wildflower bloom according to Minnesota Wildflowers.
A little more research led us to Pickerel Lake, a shallow lake in Saint Paul’s Lilydale Regional Park. This time we took a canoe in case the flowers were far off shore. Rain began to sprinkle down as we unloaded the canoe. Should we go ahead as planned? Wait for a dry day? We put on our raincoats, launched the canoe, and paddled (if struggling through a thicket of lily pads and flowers can be called paddling) toward what looked like it might be lotus at the far edge of the lake. After very little forward progress, more rain, and not knowing if lotus would even open in rain, we decided to return another day.
Before we could return to Lilydale, though, we saw a picture online of lotus in bloom down in Frontenac State Park in a backwater of the Mississippi River. Off we went to see for ourselves, early on an overcast day perfect for photography. By the time we navigated all the road construction and detours on Highway 61, the sun had unfortunately burned off any clouds. Sun or not, we were determined to see American lotus.
A trail at the park led through a floodplain forest, so tall and green and crowded with new growth that we were glad for a path to walk on. When we reached trail’s end and river’s edge, there they were–hundreds of American lotus spread out before us.
This time there was no mistaking them for large water lilies. Creamy yellow flowers six inches across stood on long stalks a foot or more above the water. Their unnotched leaves, as wide as twenty inches, stood up, too, like parasols. The nearest lotus flowers were only a few feet off shore–surely reaching them would be easy. We put on our water shoes, rolled up our shorts, and waded out.
The cool water felt welcome, but the river bottom sucked muckily at our feet. We aren’t squeamish, but neither of us wanted to topple into the water, especially not with camera equipment. Farther along, the shore looked sandy enough that we might have firm footing for at least a little way out, so we waded to where the river bottom felt more solid underfoot and sloshed far enough for Kelly to take a picture.
Photo accomplished we wandered up and down the shore, marveling at the wealth of elegant flowers and huge leaves. Blue darners zipped among the flowers, a monarch fluttered past, and we knew that never again would we mistake a water lily for a lotus.
Now we not only brake for wildflowers. We happily wade for them, too.
See more of what we saw that day!