Mad. Sq. Water Garden 2019
This season, Madison Square Park Conservancy has an exciting addition to the gardens: an aquatic garden replete with lotuses and other flowering water plants that has taken up residence in the Reflecting Pool. Water gardens have a history, stretching all the way back to ancient Persian and Chinese gardens. Water gardens are very popular, but even a small water feature can tie a garden together and provide tangible benefits. Many people report an increased sense of calm and well-being in gardens with water features. Ponds and water features provide a habitat for a number of animals, from amphibians, such as frogs and toads, to fish and beneficial insects, many of which have aquatic larval stages. Our own water garden attracts a sizeable number of dragonflies, which can often be seen resting on the leaves of our lotuses and other aquatic plants.
Lotuses, which feature heavily in our water garden, have been cultivated for 3000 years. Members of the genus Nelumbo, there are two extant species, Nelumbo lutea, the American lotus, and Nelumbo nucifera, the Sacred Lotus. Lotuses have many unique features, such as their ultrahydrophobic leaves which cause water to immediately form droplets that roll off rather than getting wet. Lotuses are also able to regulate their flower’s temperature within a very narrow band of temperatures similar to humans and other mammals. Lotuses are extremely long-lived, and dormant lotus seeds 1300 years old were able to be germinated by botanists.
Our water garden is also home to other aquatic plants, members of the genus Thalia, alligator’s flag, and Sagittaria latifolia, broadleaf arrowhead. Arrowhead, also called duck-potato, is a native of wetlands of the Americas. It develops tuberous roots which are edible both raw and cooked, with a flavor reminiscent of potatoes and chestnuts; the tubers were commonly eaten by indigenous people of the America’s. Alligator’s flag, the genus Thalia, are native to the Americas and parts of Africa. These tall water plants develop canes similar to canna lilies, and when flowering produce long panicles of violet-blue flowers. In their native range, clumps of alligator’s flag are often used by waterfowl as hiding places for their nests.