The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, July 17, 1994                  TAG: 9407150216
SOURCE: Mary Reid Barrow 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   93 lines


There's a way to enjoy the 40th anniversary of Tabernacle United Methodist Church's Lotus Luncheon in high spirits and not put a damper on the festivities by mourning the lost lotuses of Tabernacle Creek.

You see, not too long ago, the beautiful, yellow native American lotus bloomed in July for as far as the eye could see in the creek across the way from the church on Sandbridge Road.

The church luncheon was all part of a grand lotus festival that celebrated one of the last stands of the lotus in this area.

Ann Henley remembers well the years when the Back Bay tributary was ablaze with yellow lotus blooms. She's been helping with the luncheon since she was 9 and has been one of the chairmen for several years.

``The lotus went from the bridge (on Sandbridge Road) all the way down the creek and almost up to the mouth of North Bay,'' Henley recalled. ``If you were coming by boat to the bridge, you couldn't get the boat through the lotus, they were so thick. They also went for as far as you could see up to the north, too.''

Now the lotus are no more. Some blame it on pollution, others on the salt water that was once pumped into Back Bay, and still others on disease. For whatever reason, not a single lotus will be blooming when Tabernacle Church has its lotus luncheon.

Don't despair. Instead, go to the church at 1265 Sandbridge Road any time between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a home-cooked country lunch. Feast on ham, chicken salad, fresh vegetables, drinks and dessert - all for $5 for adults and $2.50 for children 6 to 12.

Then, with a stomach full, giving nary a nod to the waterway devoid of lotus, grab a city map and go on a wild water lily tour in old Princess Anne County. (Go at midday, because lotus close up later in the afternoon.)

Beautiful water lilies blooming along the roadside are the first thing to look for. Known as pond lilies or fragrant water lilies, these floating white flowers and round leaves grow wild in the still waters of roadside ditches in low-lying areas adjacent to Back Bay. Muddy Creek Road, in the vicinity of Blue Pete's Restaurant and farther east, always seems to have an abundance of them.

The flowers are supposed to be fragrant, though I've never smelled them. They are pure white, sometimes tinged pink, with yellowish centers. They usually are in bloom all summer as long as there's water in the ditches.

Often you also find pickerelweed, another water bloomer, among the pond lilies. The dark blue flowers grow in clusters along the stem, like hyacinths. The upright leaves are pretty and heart-shaped.

A roadside ditch on Knotts Island offers a different experience. The biggest lotus I've ever seen are growing along Princess Anne Road near the office entrance to the Mackey Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Huge and pink with giant leaves, the lotus are definitely not native, but they appear to be thriving in the Knotts Island environment. The leaves grow three to five feet above the water, and the flowers rise on strong stems even higher than that.

From checking through identification guides, I figure the lotus are Hindu or sacred lotus, but I am really not sure. If so, the guides say they were imported from Asia and have escaped cultivation. Whatever they are, they are a remarkable sight growing along an unkempt roadside.

Then for the icing on the cake, head over to Stumpy Lake, where there really are some native American lotus. The yellow flowers, blooming in all their glory, are best seen up close at the spillway on Elbow Road just off Indian River Road. You can stop on a little pull-off on the side of the road there and walk out on the spillway to get a pretty good photograph.

You also can get a good look at the unusual lotus seed pods. As a lotus flower ages, the seed pod, up to 4 inches across, emerges in the blossom center. Reminiscent of a sprinkler head on a watering can, the seed pod looks almost mechanical compared to the exotic beauty of its flower.

Dried lotus pods are sought after for dried arrangements. The nutty seeds are edible and so are the underwater tubers, or roots, of the lotus.

The lotus really is a sacred flower in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. One of the nicest references compares the beauty of the lotus rising from its dank, muddy water home, to ``hope arising from chaos.''

Folks also hope the lotus will again rise from the bottom mud of Tabernacle Creek, but in the meantime eat, drink and then drive to Stumpy Lake.

P.S. A FLAX TO LINEN WORKSHOP will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Francis Land House. Participants will learn about linen production, from processing the plant to spinning the cloth. The cost of the workshop is $35 and includes the text. Reservations are required by calling 340-1732. MEMO: Do you know other special places where water plants bloom in the wild?

Call me on INFOLINE, 640-5555. Enter category 2290. Or, send a

computer message to my Internet address:


The yellow blooms of the native American lotus can best be seen at

the Stumpy Lake spillway on Elbow Road just off Indian River Road.

by CNB