When the Lotus once again emerge and blossom from the waters of Echo Park Lake, they may not be exactly what you remember. The city’s Department of Public Works has been charged with restoring the now dead Lotus Bed in the northwest corner of the lake as part of an approximately $84 million rehabilitation that will take several years to complete. But replanting the iconic Echo Park lotus, which had bloomed in the park for more than 70 years before dying abruptly, isn’t as easy as ordering some of the plants floating in the water garden display at the Sunset Nursery.
The pom-pom-sized flowers and floppy oval leaves that floated in Echo Park Lake were part of a species called Nelumbo nucifera, said Alfred Mata, a senior environmental engineer working on the lake rehabilitation project. Within that species, there are an estimated 600 varieties or genotypes of Nelumbo Nucifera, according to research conducted by the city. Duplicating what grew in the Echo Park bed – which, according to one legend, were planted by Angelus Temple missionaries returning from China – would mean identifying the exact variety. But the variety that grew in Echo Park Lake was never determined before they died.
“I don’t know if anybody every knew that,” said Mata. But, he added, “I don’t think it will make a difference” in trying to find a suitable replacement.
In fact, at a recent meeting where Mata and his colleagues updated residents on the project plans, one biologist said they were looking at planting a variety of lotus instead of a single variety that had lived in the lake. In addition, there was a suggestion that the new bed would not only include a variety of plants but also a variety of shades and colors instead of the same bubble-gum pink and white blossoms. “The goal or benefit is that a variety is expected to increase the probability of maintaining a healthy lotus population over time,” Mata said.
But what would Echo Park residents, who get nostalgic over the loss of a billboard, think of a new variety or shade of Lotus? Michael O’Brien, Echo Park’s resident horticultural expert who attended the meeting with a t-shirt bearing a photo of the pink Echo Park Lotus blossoms, expressed some concern.
“Can you replace a historic plant with a plant that you know is not historic, and that does not look like the historic plant?” O’Brien said in an email. “Well, the answer is no.”
Echo Park neighborhood council member David Rockello favors keeping the pink. “They have let the lotus die – there is no bringing back what they originally had,” he said. But, “I think that they should go with the color that was originally there.”
Of course, some residents really don’t care about what species or genotype is planted.
“We can be historically accurate until we go bananas,” said Isa-Kae Meksin, who has lived near the lake for nearly 50 years. “I really don’ care as long as they are lotus.”
Top photo by emdot via Flickr; Bottom image from martincox.com