Lotus flowers can reach 2 meters in diameter or they can be as small and delicate as a baby's foot. Now is the peak time to appreciate dozens of varieties in many colors. Chen Ye gives a tour.
The lotus is a virtually universal symbol of purity, beauty and spiritual enlightenment because its roots grow in earthly mud but its flower is untainted and opens skyward.
For Buddhists, Hindus and many others, the lotus represents the way human beings should live. It symbolizes "spontaneous" generation and divine birth in Buddhism and is an iconic symbol in Chinese culture.
In Shanghai, People's Park, Guyi Garden in Jiading District and Gucun Park in Baoshan District are the top three destinations to appreciate lotus flowers.
"It will be too late to see (the flowers) if we don't go now," says Zhao Mingyu, a 9-year-old boy, trying to persuade his father to visit People's Park.
He's right. The best time to appreciate the beauty of the elegant flowers is the summertime, usually July and August.
People's Park is one of the major places in the city to appreciate lotus flowers free. There's a pond full of pink and white lotus, and boats can be rented. A children's playground is nearby.
The small pond is known as Bicui Lake, meaning a lake with pure water and fresh plants.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is near the lotus pond. The Art Lab inside the museum is a good spot from which to take photos of the flowers as well as the whole pond.
After the famous cherry blossoms festival at Gucun Park in spring, lotus flowers provide another reason for photographers and flower lovers to visit. The Summer Lotus Festival runs through Monday.
Visitors can bike or walk to the main lotus pavilion for the best viewing spot in the park which also contains many other types of interesting plants.
A more spectacular lotus location is the ancient Guyi Garden where the National Lotus Flower Exhibition is underway.
It is also a place in the city where many rare species of lotus can been seen, including Wufei Lotus, King Lotus and Tiny Sleeping Lotus.
The classical garden, the largest of its sort in Shanghai, contains nine types of lotus, some very rare, in various colors, including red, blue, black, yellow, lavender and pink. Thirty-five types of blossoms can be seen.
Wufei Lotus was developed in Japan in 1966 and crossbred with yellow lotus from America and Dahe Lotus from Japan. Wu means dance and fei means imperial concubine.
The white flower can be construed as a graceful dancing concubine on a long stem, wearing a delicate white lace dress. The motion of the lotus is compared to dance, the petals are so translucent that they are compared to lace.
The perfect time to take a picture is from late July to early August.
This is the biggest lotus in China, which can measure more than 2 meters in diameter; it appears like a floating dinner table on the water.
The sturdiest of plants can handle a weight of 50kg without sinking, so it is said. Locals say it could be an infant's cradle.
The lotus usually blooms in the afternoon and evening and then closes in the morning. So it's best to view the lotus in the afternoon.
Tiny Sleeping Lotus
The so-called Tiny Sleeping Lotus looks like a baby's foot, measuring only 3-5cm in diameter. It can be seen next to the giant King Lotus.
The yellow blossom is crossbred from a sleeping lotus and Mexican Sleeping Lotus. The flowers typically contain 16 to 17 petals.
It blooms from late morning until night.
Open: Daily, 6am-6pm
Address: 231 Nanjing Rd W.
How to get there: Metro Lines 1, 2 and 8, People's Square Station
Open: Daily, 8:30am-4:30pm (The National Lotus Flower Exhibition runs through August 30)
Tickets: 12 yuan (US$2)
Address: Nanxiang Town, Jiading District, 21km from downtown Shanghai
How to get there: Metro Line 11 Nanxiang Station, then walk 15 minutes.
Open: Daily, 6am-7pm (The Summer Lotus Festival runs through July 30)
Tickets: 20 yuan
Address: 4788 Hutai Rd
How to get there: Metro Line 7 Gucun Park Station
Lotus and Buddhism
IN ancient China, people who are noble, pure and virtuous are traditionally referred to as lotus beings, described as "growing out of mud but not being tainted by it."
In Buddhism, the human heart is like an unopened lotus: When the virtues of the Buddha develop, the lotus blossoms. This is why the Buddha sits on a lotus in bloom.
Lotuses are usually differentiated by their color and grouping, in three or five flowers.
This symbolizes Bodhi, the state of total mental purity and spiritual perfection, and the pacification of human nature. It is characteristic of the esoteric sects, and is the lotus of the Buddhas.
This symbolizes the original nature of the heart. It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion, activity and all the qualities of the heart. It is the lotus of Avalokitesvara.
This symbolizes the victory of the spirit over the senses and represents intelligence and wisdom. It is the lotus of Manjusri and one of the attributes of Prajnaparamita, the embodiment of the "perfection of wisdom."
This is the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity. Sometimes confused with the white lotus. It is the lotus of the historical Buddha.
Where to appreciate lotus flowers outside Shanghai
Slender West Lake Park
Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province
Summer in Yangzhou means taking a boat ride among blooming lotus flowers and eating lotus seeds on the Slender West Lake.
The man-made lake provides beautiful views and visitors can stop at historic attractions.
Around the lake are fine examples of classical gardens and graceful architecture. Visitors can take a footpath around the lake.
Address: 28 Dahongqiao Rd
Open: Daily, 6:30am-5:15pm
Tickets: 90 yuan
Nanjing, Jiangsu Province
There are many places around Xuanwu Lake to appreciate lotus, including Lotus Pond, Inner Lake, Lotus Plaza, Taiping Gate, Xuanwu Gate and Love Bird Garden.
Address: 1 Xuanwu Ave
Open: Daily, 7am-9pm
Humble Administrator's Garden
Suzhou, Jiangsu Province
Known in Chinese as Zhuo Zheng Yuan, this is the most famous classical garden in southern China and features a lake full of lotus. It is considered one of the four great Chinese gardens and covers around 4 hectares.
Hundreds of thousands of fragrant pink and white lotus bloom in the lake. Elegant architecture and pavilions surround the lake and the whole scene is like an oil painting.
Lotus seeds are on sale.
Address: 178 Dongbei StrOpen: Daily, 7:30am-6pm
Tickets: 70 yuan through October 30, 50 yuan from October 31 to April 15
Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province
The West Lake Lotus Exhibition is underway through August 10 in the scenic sites Qu Yuan Feng He (Lotus in the Breeze at the Crooked Courtyard) park and Guozhuang garden.
Spectacular stretches of pink and white lotus sway in the breeze along the lake.
Qu Yuan Feng He contains four display areas, such as Guyi Garden, where visitors can view the giant King Lotus variety and read many poems about lotus.
At Guozhuang garden lotus flowers are grown in vats to develop particular characteristics. Visitors can get a close look at the plants and the science of breeding them.