Following Daike Tian's cover story in WGI
Online 3.4 and Warner Orozco et al's feature in WGI
Online 4.2, we wanted to learn more about the AU Lotus Project,
how it got its start and who and what drives it now. Here are
'Perry's Super Star'
Auburn Lotus Project:
Passionate Plant People
Unite with a Common Vision
by Dr. Ken Tilt, Warner Orozco-Obando,
C.J. McGrath, and Bernice Fischman
Department of Horticulture, Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama USA
Click images to enlarge
The Accidental Encounter and Beginning of
The Lotus Project at Auburn University began like many things
in life, especially in the plant world, as a chance encounter
with an unforgettable and quite beautiful flower. The adventure
began in 1999 with an invitation to Wuhan Botanical Gardens by
a former Auburn University graduate student, Dr. Hongwin Huang.
Dr. Huang received his PhD in Horticulture, returned to China
and became Director of the Wuhan Botanical Gardens, where he
was in charge of collecting and preserving native plants prior
to their loss of habitat due to the building of the Three Gorges
Drs. Ken Tilt and Jeff Sibley with two graduate students were
Dr. Huangs guests at the gardens and toured a generous
sample of the rich timeless culture China has to offer. Dr. Huang
helped ease the guarded Chinese scientific barriers to facilitate
and expand the exchange of information and plant materials. We
poured through the incredible plant treasures at the Garden but
were overwhelmed by two of Chinas most loved plants, peonies
and lotus. Huge expanses of colorful, fragrant peonies were in
Author Zhang Xingyan and Dr. Ken Tilt,
Chinese Lotus Conference
Beijing China 2008
For American southerners in south China, which is on a latitude
similar to Mobile, Alabama, this was truly an unusual but welcome
site since peonies are not considered a southern plant. Additionally,
we were in awe of what is a common sight to the Chinese people,
huge vistas of lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) growing
from the edge of a lake or wetland at your feet to beyond the
horizon. Cultural, governmental and religious centers are laced
with the image of lotus illustrating how much this plant is revered
and intertwined in the Chinese culture well beyond landscape
or horticultural uses. These views were life-changing visions
and we took the seeds of these memories back to the US and allowed
them to germinate and take root.
Dr. Stephen Garton and Dr. Daike Tian Put AU
in the Mud
Auburn Lotus Germplasm Collection
Opportunities are always around if you open your mind to them.
Dr. Stephen Garton was at Alabama A&M University at the time
and he is a breeder and scientist knowledgeable of lotus. We
learned that he was moving and could not take his lotus collection
with him. Our passion had escalated and we hungrily accepted
all the rhizomes we could get from his collection. In turn, this
fanned the flames of passion, love, and appreciation for this
Dr. Daike Tian, from Shanghai, China, fell into our laps and
laboratories as a PhD student who not only came to help us to
develop our peony project but also took on lotus research on
the side. His tireless work ethic combined with his access to
Chinese literature and nurseries escalated our program rapidly
in the ornamental area.
We became extremely excited over the potential of this plant,
especially the uniqueness of the bowl lotus. Lotus cultural requirements
perfectly match the soil conditions for the chronically economically
depressed area of the black belt region in Alabama, which has
a rapidly growing aquaculture industry. Daike worked on the cultural
practices of soil, water depth, container size, fertility, cultivar
evaluation, and post-harvest handling and storage to get us acquainted
with the basics. We realized the potential of this plant and
needed help to learn more and commercialize lotus for others
Warner Orozco-Obando Adds Latin Energy to the
We actively recruited and waited for funding for Warner Orozco-Obando
to come from the University of Georgia to enrich our new lotus
project as a PhD student. Warner is from Costa Rica and brought
his passion for plants and his unique background of agriculture
(BS in vegetable production from UC Davis) and environmental
science (MA in environmental law) to the program. We moved aside
as Warner injected his infectious ideas and inquisitive drive
to introduce and make lotus part of American culture.
Author Wang Qichao and Warner
Orozco-Obando, Lotus Exposition,
Beijing China 2008
Warner built on Daikes contributions and bridged the gap
between many other academic disciplines. He loved the challenge
and opportunity to spread the collaborative program internationally.
With Warner and our industry contacts, we successfully partnered
with like-minded people to take ornamental lotus to a mass commercial
scale. He proposed the use of lotus in constructed wetlands (CWs)
to remove organic compounds (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides)
as well as heavy metals. He also envisioned using the roots harvested
from the CWs in the production of alternative fuels (e.g. ethanol).
Warner made the link with aquaculture and offered lotus as a
potential bio-filter to help remediate many of our environmental
blunders and excesses.
Laura, Bill and Steve Bancroft,
Ten Mile Creek Nursery
Making the Jump
to the Real World
Bill Bancroft, energetic former horticulture student from
Auburn University, started Ten Mile Creek Nursery in Hartford,
Alabama. Bill, along with his parents, Steve and Laura Bancroft,
collaborated with Auburn University and Moerings-USA and Oscar
Warmerdam in Virginia to produce the first greenhouse-forced
lotus for the early spring retail market. This successful venture
continues into the second season with increased numbers and optimism.
We have continued to make links with aquaculture producers
in the black belt region to develop an aquaponics industry with
lotus as the model crop. These programs made a huge leap in visibility
and credibility due to Warners efforts.
CJ McGrath Brings a Welcome Green Conscience
to the Program
Our latest recruit to the lotus team is CJ McGrath, who has
a passion for sustainable agriculture and the organic production
of vegetables. Her program has added a large important segment
that we could not address with our limited resources. She does
for the organic vegetable program what Warner and Daike did for
the ornamental program, with help from Dr. Guihong Bi from Mississippi
CJ McGrath and Grant Mitchell,
Tianmen Plaza, Beijing, China
CJ has developed links with other organic growers in California
and the black belt region. She is looking at vermiculture as
an organic substrate in a synergistic relationship with aquaculture
and fish waste to offer a low cost production and marketing program
for edible lotus. The development of this area will take several
grants and much work to get lotus to the family dinner table,
but we are hopeful.
Bernice Fischman: Sharing as We Go
As members of the International Plant Propagators Society,
whose motto is To Seek and Share, we learn the value
and benefit of not hoarding but openly sharing all for a more
rapid and fun development of plant treasures. The lotus team
embraces this concept and shares promotional distributions of
plants to botanical gardens around the country. We have made
lotus a priority program among the Alabama Cooperative Extension
System network of horticulture agents and Master Gardener programs.
In the background throughout the process has been Bernice
Fischman, who develops our web page (Fischman et al., 2009).
The site chronicles our activities, successes and failures. She
has an educational background in art and English, and a personality
that miraculously and meticulously puts order to our frenzied
efforts. She creates all the beautiful displays for our promotions
of lotus, works with us in our publications, and has dedicated
countless hours to the organization and development of the Nelumbo
< Bernice Fischman
Good People Bring Incredible Experience and
Resources to Support Our Efforts
We made a late entrance into membership with different organizations
such us WGI and the International Water Garden Society (IWGS).
These should always be the first stop for any plant enthusiast
trying to learn a new crop. They present a large pool of knowledge
with national and international contacts and led to our involvement
as the International Registrar for the genus Nelumbo.
We began building on the efforts of others to create a definitive,
dynamic list of existing cultivars from around the world. We
will need everyones help to verify and add to our official
list. IWGS has provided us with some needed funding for our research.
In addition, it led to some unique and unlikely liaisons. Grant
Mitchell, a long time IWGS member and an Aussie lotus guru, offered
to guide Warner, CJ and Ken through the world of lotus in China.
One of lifes great characters, Grant took us through the
back roads of China to meet his long-time friends. His fluent
Chinese, personality, and reputation as a lotus expert got us
into private nurseries and dining rooms that few people get to
enjoy. He lifted us a number of notches on the learning curve
of this plant.
The lotus team now has an increasing level of input from a
large national and international program. We have enjoyed finding
others who share our interests and are eager to help make lotus
a valued crop as it is in many areas of the world. Our next graduate
student is scheduled to come from India where we hope to evaluate
and possibly exploit the biofuel potential of lotus as well as
link to the significant research activities in that country.
Today, our faculty collaborations include scientists from horticulture,
plant physiology, nursery management, post-harvest physiology,
vegetable production, molecular biology, production horticulture,
agriculture economics, fisheries, plant nutrition, pharmacology,
water quality, soils and agronomy.
Horticulture student David
Trapper and his Nelumbo species
Horticulture student Braden
Dudderar and his lotus experiment
< Horticulture student David
Eckman harvesting lotus
N. nucifera (left)
and N. lutea
nine day old seedlings
Aquaculture student Tommy
Purcell and lotus used to remove
nutrients from fish effluents
Lotus phytoremediation of
organic compounds study
We are actively trying to feed and expand our international
relationships with India, Korea, China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia,
Thailand, Australia, Russia, Costa Rica, South Africa and other
willing countries to share and expand our common interests. If
we can manage to effectively present our vision to the grant
providers, we hope to develop the American interest, enthusiasm
and eco-tourism activities we have experienced with lotus during
our numerous subsequent visits to China and other countries.
The Chinese have become valuable allies and certainly the knowledgeable
mentors in our efforts.
We note that the Chinese and Japanese use lotus as a teaching
module in elementary schools to teach history, language, ecology,
math and science. We are working with a community college and
have pending grants to develop similar programs for our high
schools. Like all plant people, we want to share our joy of this
wonderful plant that has been revered by other cultures for centuries.
It is our turn to savor and enjoy the many diverse gifts this
versatile plant has to offer. We hope we can sustain our own
momentum and encourage others who want to see this plant become
commonplace in the United States.
For more information about the project:
Bancroft, L. 2009. Warners lotus selection
for the South East. Ten Mile Creek Nursery. http://www.tenmilecreeknursery.com/
Creamer, J. 2007. AU Lotus researchers test the waters for putting
aquatic plant on the market. AG Illustrated. College of Agriculture.
Auburn University. Auburn, Al. Page 13.
Fischman, B., K. Tilt, W. Orozco-Obando, and D. Tian. 2009. Auburn
Lotus Research Project. Department of Horticulture, Auburn University.
Alabama, USA. http://www.ag.auburn.edu/hort/landscape/AU_Lotus_Project_Page.html
Orozco-Obando, W. 2007. Lotus - A Literature Review. The Auburn
Lotus Research Project. Dept. Horticulture, Auburn University.
Alabama, USA. http://www.ag.auburn.edu/hort/landscape/LOTUS_LIT.html
Orozco-Obando, W., K. Tilt, D. Tian, J. Sibley, F. Woods, W.
Foshee, J. Chappell, D. Cline, D. Fields, and J. Olive. 2007a.
Lotus, an alternative multipurpose crop for the Southeastern
USA. International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society
Symposium. Bangkok, Thailand. Page 97.
Orozco-Obando, W., K. Tilt, D. Eckman, B. Dudderar, F. Dane,
J. Sibley, F. Woods, W. Foshee, J. Chappell, D. Cline, F. Woods.
2007b. Lotus, an
alternative crop for the Southeast USA with potential for Ethanol
production. First International Symposium of Bio-fuels. The U.S.
Civilian Research & Development Foundation. Kiev, Ukraine.
Orozco-Obando, W; K. Tilt, B. Fischman and
C.J. McGrath. 2008a. A secret treasure in our backyard: Edible
Lotus. The whole world gets it, but the USA. The Water Garden
Journal 23 (4): 14 18.
Orozco-Obando, W., K. Tilt, D. Eckman, B. Dudderar, F. Dane,
J. Sibley, F. Woods, W. Foshee, J. Chappell, D. Cline, and F.
Woods. 2008b. Determination of phyto-remediation potential of
Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) and Native American Lotus
(Nelumbo lutea) in Constructed Wetlands. Proc. 22nd Chinese
Lotus Conference. Beijing, China. 6 pages (submitted).
Orozco-Obando, W; K. Tilt, and B. Fischman. 2009. Is Lotus an
Ornamental or a Vegetable? Yes! WGI
Online Journal 4.2, May 2009.
Tian, D., K. Tilt, F. Woods, J. Sibley, and F. Dane. 2005. Effects
of soil level and fertilization on performance of container Lotus.
Proceedings 52th Annual Research Conference. Southern Nursery
Association. Atlanta, Georgia.
Tian, D., K. Tilt, F. Woods, J. Sibley, and F. Dane. 2006. Summary
of development, introduction and marketing strategy to share
Lotus in the Southeast United States. Proc. 13th Annual Conference
Int. Plant Prop. Soc. Wakayama, Japan 13: 24-26.
Tian, D. 2008. Container production and post-harvest handling
of lotus (Nelumbo) and Micropropagation of herbaceous
peony (Paeonia). Ph. D. Dissertation. Auburn University.
Department of Horticulture. 292 pp.
Tian, D., K. Tilt, F. Woods, J. R. Kessler and J. Sibley. 2008.
Postharvest longevity and viability of cooler-stored Lotus propagules.
J. Environ. Hort. 26 (2): 101 104.
Tian, D., K. Tilt, F. Woods, J. Sibley, and F. Dane. 2009. Response
of Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) to planting time and
disbudding. HortScience 44(3): 4 pages.