On the surface of Lago Superiore (Lake Superior), one of the three lakes surrounding the city of Mantua, lies the largest expanse of lotus flowers outside of Asia. Known as Isola dei Fiori di Loto, or Lotus Island, it is a floating island split by small waterway that allows boats to cross.
The lotus, Nelumbium nucifera, rise up from the water with large leaves and stunning flowers in shades of pale pink and white. These unique plants have adapted to grow in watery environments like lakes and slow-moving rivers. They root in the soil of the lakebed, and push out leaves that float on or above the surface.
Native to Asia, these aquatic plants were established in Italy in the early 20th century. Mantua’s lotuses were established in 1921 by Maria Pellegreffi, a student of the natural sciences. She received some Nelumbus luciferina plants from missionaries returning from China and planted them in front of the Valletta di Belfiore. Pellegreffi tried to breed the plant to make a flour from their rhizomes. While the flour never took hold in Italy, the plants established themselves in the waters of Lago Superiore.
In the lotus has spread so much that it has become one of the symbols of the city of Mantua. The fast-growing plants are kept in check by continuous pruning, which helps keep this beautiful, but pervasive plant from covering the entire lake.
The best time to see the lotus floating island is in July and August, when the flowers are in full bloom.