The floating fog of earlier hours has faded with the gentle uprising of a southeastern breeze. Gray skies are giving way to spots of blue and bits of sun. With the recent departure of sultry steamy days, I dare say this is my kind of weather -- temperatures in the high 60s and low humidity with wisps of wind rustling the leaves.
On this midsummer morning the undulating water lilies dance in the delight of the day. They bob and bounce like carefree children playing in reckless abandon. There is serenity in the sight of water lilies.
For centuries their simplistic beauty has been the focus of Japanese watercolor paintings. Water lilies also highlighted the canvases of many French Impressionist painters of the late 1800s. Claude Monet, one of the great masters of impressionism, often dabbed the pastel petals of these exquisite aquatic plants into his works of art.
More than 360 species of the water lily family bloom in splendor at this time of year across America. Appearing in shades of soft gray, white, yellow and pink, they all have long stalks and are rooted in mud with floating or emergent platter-like leaves. The white, fragrant, lotus and yellow water lilies are the species that grace our Minnesota waterways.
Common in shallow water where the bottom is mucky, the beautiful white water lily sports a six-inch, double flower with a lemon center. The floating circular leaves are deeply notched at the base and green beneath.
As its name implies, the exquisite blossoms of the fragrant or sweet-scented water lily render a heavenly smell. It is similar to the white water lily in form and color, although its notched, plate-like leaves are purplish beneath and the flower is sometimes tinged with pink. Found in tranquil waters and ponds, the fragrant water lily blooms from June to September and is most common in the northern regions of Minnesota.
Certainly among my favorite flowers is the lovely American lotus, also known as nelumbo. This plant is closely related to the pink Sacred Lotus of Asia. It is our largest wild flower with huge pale yellow blossoms that spread up to ten inches across. Residing in sluggish rivers and ponds, both the flower and gigantic, 20-inch, bowl-shaped leaves usually rise a foot or two above the quiet water as they mature.
After the flower fades, a unique central seed pod forms. This top-shaped pod is collected and sold commercially for usage in dried floral arrangements. Lotus pods were part of my autumnal wedding basket, so I never see this aquatic charmer without being reminded of its special personal meaning.
The fourth species, the globular yellow water lily, is a familiar sight in the wetlands and waterways throughout our state. It sports a small, bright chrome-yellow, waxy cup with a circular central disk rather than the standard open form with soft petals. Its leaves are rounded and heart-shaped. Blooming earlier in the season than the others, the yellow water lily arrives on the scene in May and lingers into September. This plant is also dubbed the pond or cow lily, pond collard, wokas, spatterdock and bonnet lily.
Water lily pads are important to wildlife. Frogs and insects rest on them and the shade they afford provide excellent cover for fish and other aquatic organisms. The roots are on the menus of muskrats, moose and beavers and the seeds of some species are eaten by ring-necked ducks, mallards and wood ducks.
According to the Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier, the yellow water lily seeds and roots were consumed by Native Americans. The roots, which are richest in starch from autumn to early spring, may be roasted or boiled. They can then be peeled and cut up to use in soups and stews. During famines, the roots were dried and ground into flour.
For the adventurous, the seeds may be gathered in late summer and early autumn, then fried and shelled. Once the shell has been removed, you can cook, butter and salt the seeds like popcorn or enjoy them with milk or cream as a breakfast cereal.
As I sit here on the dock watching the shadows of the water lilies create ever-changing patterns on the gravel below, I am envious of their carefree cavorting and the serenity of simplistic beauty they symbolize.
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