One of the World’s Rarest Flowers Stolen

The rare quarter-sized water lily lifted from the botanical garden. Photo courtesy of The Independent.

The rare quarter-sized water lily lifted from the botanical garden. Photo courtesy of The Independent.

Thief makes off with ‘priceless’ and virtually extinct water lily in England.

Scotland Yard is on the case of a tiny, nearly extinct mud-loving water lily that has been stolen from Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, officials reported this week.

The Nymphaea thermarum, sometimes called the pygmy Rwandan water lily, was lifted in a horticultural theft from the warm mud of a temperature-controlled pond required for its survival at Prince of Wales Conservatory last Thursday. The heist took place outside of the view of surveillance cameras.

The rare plant, which features delicate white flowers with yellow stamens and bold green lily pads, was saved from the brink of extinction in 1987 by German botanist Eberhard Fischer at a thermal freshwater spring in Mashyuza in southwestern Rwanda, its only natural home. After much trial and error, Kew horticulturist Carlos Magdalena managed to propagate the delicate plant by replicating its native habitat using pots filled with damp loam surrounded by water maintained at precisely 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

The stolen lily was one of a handful grown from seed in 2009. The only others known to exist are housed in the Bonn Botanic Gardens in Germany. Although mining has dried up the spring where the plant was originally found, the botanical garden has reintroduced a few specimens to the area.

“You can’t put a price on it by virtue of its rarity. One can’t go down to the local garden center and buy another one,” Richard Barley, the garden’s director of horticulture, said in a statement. “Our staff are dedicated to the conservation of plants and when incidents of this nature occur, it is a blow to morale. We take theft of our invaluable scientific collection of plants very seriously.”

From time to time over the years, Kew Gardens has been the victim of thefts by gardening enthusiasts who take cuttings from the rare and important flowers to grow at home.

Plant theft has long been an ongoing problem on both sides of the pond. Owners of public gardens, private homes, nurseries and greenhouses have resorted to protective deterrents ranging from heavy planters and locked gates to tie-downs and security cameras.

Have you ever experienced sticky fingers in your yard or garden? How have you dealt with it?

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About The Editors of Garden Variety

The Magazine-style Daily Lifestyle Blog of Gardening, Outdoor Spaces and Natural Living. https://gardenvarietynews.wordpress.com
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9 Responses to One of the World’s Rarest Flowers Stolen

  1. annie says:

    Sad. And the worst part is, the thieves will probably end up killing the plant they stole. 😦

  2. nicolec says:

    The upside of this is that now that the mystery has been solved, the plant is fairly easy to propagate. So the theft is not likely to harm the species (any more than it has already been harmed, that is.)

  3. That sucks. Around here they are stealing veggies out of gardens rather then the plants.

  4. Yes, we have been robbed. It was “only” German iris, “only” common colors, BUT! …to drive up to my countryside property and find a man and his galfriend actually carrying off the beautifully flowering plants they’d not bothered to DIG, but had actually just YANKED out of the soil, was so demoralizing! I displayed anger and fumed for weeks. Husband calmed me and assured me, but…

    • The Editors of Garden Variety says:

      That’s terrible! So sorry to hear about this. The nerve some people have. 😦

      • Oooh, I agree. They were brazen. Acted so nonchallant, even as I challenged them. Offered to replant these darlings, blooming,, with broken roots, mid-August, during a drought in the Deep South. Ha.
        It still riles me!

  5. On the other hand, an elderly herbalist friend of mine was buddies with Stephen Foster’s mom and the two of them would wait until he was gone lecturing and dig up stuff from his collections! What a hoot, eh?! 😉
    She once gave me a hypericum from there, but it was not the tender St. John’s Wort I would have loved, but some galloping woody invasive!
    Just proves “crime” doesn’t pay, right? We finally had enough rain to kill it. That was such a relief to my pruner and to my conscience!

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