Egyptian Lotus

Nymphaea caerulea, a water lily known mainly as the blue lotus, the blue Egyptian lotus, blue water lily, blue Egyptian water lily, and the sacred blue lily, is a famous water lily that belongs to the genus Nymphaea.

Just like other plant species in the genus, this plant has a psychoactive alkaloid called aporphine (this is not to be confused with apomorphine).

The reason why this plant is famous asides its beauty is that it was known to the Ancient Egyptian civilization.

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Order: Nymphaeales
  • Family: Nymphaeaceae
  • Genus: Nymphaea
  • Species: N. caerulea

The original habitat of this plant may have been along the river Nile and in other parts of Eastern Africa. This aquatic plant spread more widely in the ancient times, including to Thailand, and the Indian subcontinent.

Table of Contents

Description of the Egyptian Lotus

The leaves of this aquatic plant are broadly rounded,10–16 in (25–40 cm) across, with a notch at the stem of the leaf. The flowers of this plant are 10–15 cm (4–6 in) in diameter.

Reports in a number of literature by people who are unfamiliar with the plant’s actual growth and blooming cycle have claimed that the flowers open in the early morning, floating up to the surface of the water and lasting till dusk when it will close and sink.

In fact, the buds of the flower will rise to the surface of the water over a two to three days period, and when they are ready, they will open around 9:30 am and last till about 3:00 pm when they close.

The buds and flowers do not rise above the water in the dawn, nor do they submerge at dusk or in the night. The flowers of the Egyptian Lily have petals that are pale bluish-white to sky-blue or mauve, smoothly changing in an ombre pattern to a pale yellow in the middle of the flower.

Religion and art

Along with the famous white lotus, nymphaea lotus, also local to Egypt, the flower and plant are very frequently depicted in a bunch of Ancient Egyptian art.

The plants have been drawn in several paintings and stone carvings, including the walls of the famous temple of Karnak, and are regularly represented in connection with dancing “party scenes” or in some significant magical or spiritual rites like the rite of passage into the afterlife.

The mummy of Egypt’s King Tut was covered with the flower. N. caerulea was also considered extremely notable in Egyptian mythology, seen as a symbol of the sun because the flowers close at night and re-open in the morning.

Also, at Heliopolis, the beginning of the world was described to have been when the god of the sun Ra emerged from a water lotus flower that was growing in “primordial waters.” At night, the god was believed to withdraw back into the flower again.

Because of its color, it was thought, in some religions, as having been the original container, like an egg, of Atum, and similarly believes that Ra is the solar deities. It was also the symbol of the Egyptian goddess Nefertem.

Properties and uses

Some evidence has indicated that the medicinal effects of this plant and others that contain the psychoactive alkaloid aporphine have been known to both the Ancient Egyptians and the Maya for ages.

The Egyptian lotus has a mildly sedating effect, and that makes it a very likely candidate for the lotus plant that was eaten by the mythical Lotophagi in the famous Homer’s Odyssey.

This water lotus has been used for making perfumes since ancient Egyptian times; it is also widely used in aromatherapy.

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