Astrakhan reserve’s outstanding adornment is the very rare and ancient Caspian lotus. Known since the Cretaceous period, it is a sacred plant in India and China. There are several hypotheses as to the appearance of the lotus in the Volga delta. It may have been carried by birds, as lotus nuts have been found in their intestines and can grow when they come into contact with water. Alternatively, Kalmyk nomads may have brought the lotus; they, too, consider it a sacred plant. A third legend maintains that the lotus is native to the Volga deltas. In any event, the lotus has grown here for many millennia. Genetic research has shown that the Caspian lotus is identical to the nutty lotus.
At the time the reserve was established lotus thickets were found only in cultured reservoirs and occupied less than one acre in area. In the 100 years of the reserve’s existence the area occupied by lotus has increased greatly, and its preservation is a great source of pride to Astrakhan Reserve. Today Volga delta fields are profusely covered with fragrant lotus flowers, occupying an area of more than 12,500 acres and continuing to increase.
The Caspian lotus flower is incredibly beautiful, and is also called Caspian rose or Astrakhan rose, a true symbol of the Astrakhan region. Lotus blooms from early July to mid-September. During that period the thickets are very colorful, with large, soft pink flowers 25-30 cm in diameter. The lotuses exude a faint but pleasant sweet smell; their delicate aroma attracts bees and beetles.
After flowering the lotus seeds ripen. There are up to 20 seeds in a cone-shaped box, resembling large, hard nuts in a tight shell. After ripening the seeds sink to the bottom, where they may remain for a long time. The lotus propagates mainly through rhizomes.
The leaves are large and thick, in the form of a shield and covered with a wax coating. Water rolls off them in large beads.
The lotus thickets play an important role in the delta’s ecosystem. Geese and swans feed on lotus nuts and pulp; boars eat the rhizomes. In autumn lotus thickets feed tens of thousands of waterfowl. In summer, ducks hide under the large leaves.
The lotus grows in vast thickets along reservoirs at depths of up to two meters. They require a muddy bottom and flowing water. The Volga delta provides all the necessary conditions for their growth, but they nevertheless require protection. Silting of lakes, changes in the river regime and construction of dams are all detrimental to the lotus.
The beauty of Caspian lotus is fascinating. The opportunity to see it in bloom is a rare pleasure; yet the beautiful flowers may not be picked, as lotuses are strictly protected by law. Besides, a plucked flower will fade after a couple of hours. Astrakhan Reserve provides visitors with opportunities to see lotuses in bloom. The reserve’s ecological trail passes through a field of lotus thickets. Visitors may get a close-up look at the flowers, smell their delicate aroma and touch their petals.