It would have been at this time of the year that the lotus in the northwest corner of Echo Park Lake would have begun to bloom, with large, pink and cream colored flowers unfurling above a layer of floppy green leaves. That sight is only a memory now after the decades old lotus bed died off mysteriously a few years ago. But, thanks to aquatic plant expert Randy McDonald, a piece of the Echo Park lotus bed is now blooming in the Valley, where McDonald’s aquatic plant nursery is growing lotus that are descendants of a foot-long cutting he took from Echo Park Lake in 2005. It’s those same plants that will be planted in Echo Park Lake next February when it is refilled with water after a $65 million clean up is completed.
The progeny of the Echo Park Lake lotus – a variety of nelumbo nucifera or Asian Sacred Lotus or – are thriving in the Valley’s hot climate. “They love the heat,” said McDonald, who has been in the aquatic plant business for more than 35 years. The Echo Park lotus “are living happily ever after in Reseda.”
McDonald, 65, has had a life-long fascination with aquatic plants that began at age 7 when he tried growing his own plants. His wholesale business in Reseda – McDonald’s Aquatic Nursery – has supplied plants for ponds at the Skirball Center and Descanso Gardens as well as numerous celebrity water gardens. But, until 2005, McDonald had never seen the lotus at Echo Park Lake. The lotus have been a living landmark at the lake for decades, with newspaper accounts mentioning the aquatic plants during the 1920s. Who brought the lotus to Echo Park Lake remains a mystery, with one local legend claiming that missionaries from Angelus Temple, located across the street from the park, brought back the lotus from a trip to Asia. This time around, it will be McDonald who will be bringing the lotus to Echo Park.
During his first to Echo Park Lake during the 2005 Lotus Festival, McDonald was so taken with the Asian Sacred Lotus that he clipped a foot-long cutting from the bed and stuffed it into a plastic bag. “At the time I told my fiancee that if anything should happen to the lotus in Echo Park, at least I have some stock to reintroduce to the lake,” said McDonald. Three years later during the 2008 Lotus Festival, the lotus had all but disappeared from the lake, with officials blaming everything from bacteria and chemicals in the water to pests and a lack of maintenance.
But, even as the lotus at Echo Park Lake withered away, the descendants of those plants were thriving in Reseda, where McDonald had quickly established plants in 13 pots shortly after his 2005 visit to the Echo Park. Last year, McDonald returned with some of the plants to Echo Park Lake for what would be the last Lotus Festival before the park was closed down for a nearly two year-long renovation that would see the lake drained and dug up.
Eventually, McDonald said he was contacted by biologists and others working on the lake clean up to tap his expertise on aquatic plants. That is how is firm was contracted to provide nearly 400 lotus plants that will be delivered next February to the lake. In addition, McDonald said his firm is also supplying other aquatic plants that will grow in newly planted “wetlands” around portions of the lake.
The lotus will arrive in 4-1/2 gallon containers designed so the plants can easily slide out – minimizing trauma to the plant and roots – and planted in about six-inches of water. It’s not clear how much McDonald will get paid for this but he said some of the lotus plants he grows are sold for as much as $200 retail.
The planting and maintenance of the lotus bed will be left to others but McDonald has recommended that the city take an active role in providing nutrients and regular maintenance to keep the lotus healthy. He dismisses the notion that the Echo Park lotus died as result of dirty water or disease based on the cuttings he established. “I have never seen any problem of any kind with the stock we are using. They are a very strong, hardy, and vigorous lotus and I am happy to know that I had the insight to keep a population going so that they can thrive once again in the future of the lake.”
He noted that the lotus bed was crammed into a corner of the lake, unable to expand in search of more nutrients.
“Lotus are tremendous feeders of nutrient,” said McDonald. “When there is no nutrient added, they start to fade out. As there isn’t enough nutrient and there are small composting piles building from the decaying damaged lotus, the entire planting starts to succumb. This is especially true when there are no more fresh areas to grow over in search of new places to root and find nutrients. Add to that the fact that there wasn’t any kind of fertilizing program and no new areas to root into … and it is no surprise that they finally decided to call it quits.”
Some have estimated that it might take up to two years for the lotus to bloom once they are replanted in Echo Park Lake. But, McDonald, once again, disagrees with his fellow experts. After a long pause during a telephone interview, McDonald said the lotus – if planted in February – will be blooming once again come next July. After being cramped in pots, the lotus will certainly love all the extra room in the lake bed, McDonald said.
“They will be just like going crazy. They will cover that lotus bed as quickly as they can.”