THERE are several distinct species of plants which bear the name of lotus, but the singular beauty and usefulness of the large water-lily called by this name have in all ages attracted to it an extraordinary interest; and combined with the fables of the Egyptians, the Hindoos, and the Chinese, have exalted it in the East to honors almost divine.

It was held sacred by the ancient Egyptians. Representations of it were sculptured upon the monuments; the sun was seen rising from it, and Osiris and other deities sat upon it, or were crowned with it.

In India and Ceylon the flower is held very sacred. When princes enter the idol temple, they have this flower in their hands; and when the priests sit in silent thought, it is placed 

in a vase before them. It is related that a native, upon entering Sir William Jones's study and seeing flowers of this beautiful plant lying upon the table for examination, immediately prostrated himself before them.

The Buddhists of China and Japan also greatly venerate the flower, and associate it with all the leading deities, who are represented in the images in the temples as seated upon it.

The power attributed to the lotus is in nothing more marked than in its imagined helpfulness to the souls of the deceased. It figures in Chinese paintings of the punishment of the dead. In these pictures the deceased are represented as suffering tortures of various kinds. By their children, however, such valuable gifts are offered as to induce Kwanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, to appear upon the scene, and cast the lotus upon the miserable sufferers. . This at once ends their punishment, and the evil spirits are unable to torment their victims any more! Such pictures are shown by the Buddhist priests to move the compassion, terrify the consciences, and open the purses of the friends of the dead.

But, notwithstanding the sacredness in which the lotus is held, and the fables and superstitions which are associated with it, it is largely cultivated by many of the Chinese. The fragrant blossoms reach a diameter of ten inches, and find a ready sale. The seeds, or beans, are eaten as they are, or are ground and made into cakes; the fleshy stems supply a popular nourishing vegetable; while the fibers of the leaf stalks serve for lamp wicks.

The ancient Egyptians also largely cultivated the lotus on the waters of the Nile, the beans, the stems, and even the roots, being extensively used for food. 

The seeds of the plant were enclosed in balls of clay or mud, mixed with chopped straw, and cast into the Nile. In due season the beautiful petals appeared, shortly followed by buds, flowers, and seeds.  From this practice the inspired writer draws the beautiful figure by which he illustrates the duty of zeal and faith: "Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shall find it after many days."