[The information below was gleaned from the following
sources: The Penn Stater (March/April 2010)
The lotus pool plant material, a combination of both tropical
and hardy water lilies, is being donated by George Griffith ‘56,
who has been cultivating and hybridizing water lilies since he
was an undergraduate at Penn State more than 50 years ago. Mr.
Griffith, who co-owns the Flower Barn in Cambria County's Johnstown
with Mr. Tom O'Brien, began his business career as a boy selling
goldfish and tropical fish at W.T. Grant's, and then became interested
in growing water plants. He has been raising fragrant water lilies
(Nymphaea odorata) since the 1940s, when his uncle, Dr. Lewis
Wesner of Johnstown, encouraged him to sell the lilies he had
introduced into his pond in Bedford.
Mr. Griffith, who received a bachelor's degree in horticulture
from Penn State, paid for his college eduation with the proceeds
from his fish and water plants sales.
In 1955, while a student, his specialty drew the interest of
Milton Eisenhower, Penn State president and brother of the U.S.
president. To celebrate Dwight Eisenhower's visit to speak at
commencement, Mr. Griffith floated 2,000 water lilies on a pond
in front of the University president's home. A dramatic photo
of the brothers and the pond appeared in Life magazine.
He has now been hybridizing water lilies for a half century,
creating the first peach-colored one ('Tom O'Brien') seven years
ago. Other hybrids that he raises and sells include his own hardy
lily 'Pink Sunrise,' two other hardy lilies – 'Lemon Chiffon'
and the darker yellow 'Charlene Strawn' – and two bluish
purple tropical lilies, 'Director Moore' and 'Foxfire.'
In addition to water lilies, George plans to donate some very
special lotus plants to us this spring/summer – Chinese
lotus, grown from 2,000-year-old seeds.
The Manchurian variety of Chinese lotus (Nelumbium nucifera)
grows in only two places in the United States – Mr. Griffith’s
home in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
in Washington, D.C. In 1951, three ancient lotus seeds were discovered
in a Manchurian lake bed in China. Although the seeds' thick coating
can keep them viable for more than 100 years, no one thought that
seeds 2,000 to 3,000 years old would still germinate. Paul Souder,
a botanist at the national water gardens, proved it could be done.
In 1956, Mr. Griffith saw the plants blooming in a pond behind
a chain-link fence at Kenilworth. Noticing that they were becoming
the target of vandals, he asked his powerful friend if he might
have a division to raise and preserve the variety. The Manchurian
lotus bloomed first at his house in Johnstown and has prospered
at the summer house in Ligonier since they bought it in 1978.
Mr. Griffith has perpetuated the ancient flower but does not sell