The lotus flowers are blooming a bit early at Echo Park Lake in 2017, and lotus enthusiasts say the bloom is the most extensive in years.
Early Friday morning, nature lovers brought cameras, tripods and telephoto lenses to capture the pink-and-cream-colored flowers at the northern end of the lake. The lotus is rooted in the muck of the lake bottom, and the thick stems of the plant extend upward. At Echo Park Lake they rise about three feet above the surface.
Andrew Nguyen says he drove from Santa Ana before sunrise to capture the bloom in its most flattering light.
“They’ve grown since last year,” Nguyen says of the aquatic flowering perennials, Nelumbo nucifera, commonly known as Asian lotus. “The bloom is good and strong. It’s early. Last year it was late.”
Nguyen says he comes to photograph the flowers at least once every week of the bloom, which begins in June and continues throughout the summer months.
When asked what brings him here week after week, he says that lotus flowers adorn Buddhist temples in the East. “It grows from the mud and becomes beautiful,” he says. “It’s special.”
The bright green leaves of the lotus plant appear in late March or early April, and the flowers in June. When the flower loses its petals, the seed pod at the center of the flower ripens into a fruit. In winter, the top of the plant turns brown and withers.
(Fun lotus fact: Scientists have found the lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers, just as warm-blooded animals do.)
Mary Tran says she comes every year to photograph the lotus and says they’ve grown noticeably taller compared with last year. “I came two days ago, and I come back,” Tran says, her hand resting on a camera attached to a tripod. “The flowers are beautiful.”
Norma Martínez stopped to take a cellphone photo of the lake. Martínez has lived in Echo Park nearly all her life and says the bloom this year is exceptional. “This is the nicest bloom I’ve ever seen.”
The city completed a restoration of the lotus beds a decade ago after a mysterious blight killed off the plants. A study of the blight was unable to determine its cause. The lotus is known to be amazingly resilient: An individual lotus can live for more than 1,000 years.
Today the lotus plants of Echo Park are in two separate sections at the northern edge of the lake. The larger collection is at the northwestern corner of the lake along Glendale Boulevard, where on Friday morning a veritable field of lotus flowers and blossoms waved in a light breeze. A dozen nature photographers were gathered there pointing cameras. One man extended poles into the water to position a flower. Another used spray bottles to create the illusion of early morning dew.
The lotus at this corner of the lake are protected by underwater netting that shields the plants from ducks, geese and other would-be predators, which enjoy a nibble on the lotus stems if given half a chance.
Stephanie Willen of Echo Park walks her little dog Eo around the lake every morning. She says the plants have prospered every year since the renovation. “But it does seem a little bigger than last year in both sections,” she says. “They’re really emerging.”
Michael O’Brien, a landscape architect and arborist retired from the city Planning Department, says the restoration was a success and that he expects the lotus bloom this year to be a good one. O’Brien says the peak bloom starts before the Lotus Festival in mid-July and that the extent of the bloom will depend on how soon the June Gloom dissipates and the weather turns warm.
“They don’t really do their thing until it gets warmer than it is now,” O’Brien says.
Sunny weather is ahead in the 10-day forecast, with high temperatures expected to rise into the upper 80s next week. The 37th Lotus Festival is July 15 and 16 at Echo Park Lake.
José Arrevalo, 72, lives on the hill east of the park and spoke of the lotus bloom in reverent terms, as a seasonal rite. Arrevalo says: “The way nature goes away and returns again … qué bonito.”