Optical and lasing characteristics of a rare‐earth‐doped nonlinear crystal, neodymium‐doped lithium tantalate (Nd:LiTaO3), have been studied. Continuous wave lasing lines at 1.092 and 1.082 μm with ordinary (σ) and extraordinary (π) polarizations, respectively, have been observed by pumping near the 800 nm absorption region. The effects of annealing and poling of the crystal on the fluorescence spectrum, lifetime, and polarization are investigated. A comparative study of the slope efficiency and threshold for ordinary and extraordinary polarized lasing is also made. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.