Sunday, June 7, 2009

Un-Gilding the Lily

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue...

Few if any plants have a more cool image than the sacred Indian lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), a symbol for purity and beauty in eastern cultures, woven deeply into centuries of art and literature.

It's no wonder, considering my nature, that when I was told by the previous owners of this house that we had a lotus in our koi pond, I was quick to believe it and to repeat the fantasy to everyone, and I have been slow to finally take the time to verify the plant for myself.

The plant in our pond (pictured above) is actually a Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata), or so I've been told by my CIA friend who knows about these things. And though the true lotus was once considered a Nymphaea, and though the Nymphaea have commonly been called lotuses, the distinction must be acknowledged. Our lily is no lotus.

The true lotus has a seed pod like this, perfect for Vishnu or some other Hindu big shot to sit upon and look serene. My lily flower has no such pod. The lotus leaves hang in air above the water while mine float on top like all Nymphaea lilies. These are obvious differences, but I never really wanted to know them, preferring instead to believe it perfectly reasonable that we would have a sacred Indian lotus in our back yard, something to tell our guests in an attempt to impress them. Such is the nature of self-deception and pride.

Though not a lotus, our white and fragrant water lily has a flower that is incredibly beautiful. It's native to Florida and perfectly happy in the small corner of our upper pond. The fish can keep cool under its broad and thick leaves, another advantage during the hot summer. So while it is not a celebrated plant, while it is not a spiritual icon, I like it very much. In fact, I like it more now that I did before, and I intend to apologize to it today for ever wanting it to be more than it is. Well, maybe I will just give its leaves a nice cleaning.

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