Nymphaea thermarum

Particular species of plants don’t get in the news that often. When they do, it seems to me that it is typically because of some sort of bad news. Nymphaea thermarum is no exception to that rule, currently making headlines due to the recent theft of a plant of this extinct-in-the-wild species from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Today’s photograph–perhaps of the now-stolen plant–is courtesy of C T Johansson@Wikimedia Commons aka Christer Johansson.

Though it has no common name, Kew staff sometimes refer to this species as pygmy Rwandan water lily. The pygmy part of the name? The leaves can be as small as 1cm in diameter, making it the smallest water lily in the world by at least a factor of ten. Nymphaea thermarum was known from only one location in the world: the overflow of a freshwater hot spring in southwestern Rwanda, where a small population grew in the damp mud. Alterations and exploitation of this hot spring later dessicated the soil in which the water lily grew, rendering it extinct in the wild as of 2008. Fortunately, the species is relatively easy to propagate and it has been conserved ex situ at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Bonn Botanic Gardens. If the Rwandan site can be restored, there remains an opportunity to reintroduce the species back to the wild (and some reports suggest this has already started to take place). The genetic line of the stolen plant, though, has likely been lost. With approximately 130 or so plants remaining at Kew (and an unknown, but likely similarly low number at Bonn BG), the loss of the single plant may have a deleterious effect on the long-term survivability of the species due to the effect of a population bottleneck. That’s speculation on my part, though, as I would need to know more about the existing genetic variability in the population (and it would be handy to know how many plants existed in the wild before becoming extinct).

Here is a list of some of the news reports (most with additional photographs):

A thank-you to Dr. Sean Graham, UBC Botanical Garden’s Research Director, for being the first to point out this story to me.

Nymphaea thermarum

8 responses to “Nymphaea thermarum”

  1. Calochilus

    Theft of plants such as these really bring the arguement for commercialisation to the fore.
    In Australia, the recently discovered monotypic conifer genus, Wollemia was commercialised so effectively that it is now common in the trade and, from all accounts, the wild habitat plants have not been disturbed, pillaged or stolen.
    In cases such as the Nymphia where the commercial possibilities appear limited, release of selected clones to ensure genetic diversity is a real possibility. Distribution could well occur through SIGs (Special Interest Groups) which might return a small royalty to the originating authority.

  2. Cindy

    At one time this would’ve really upset me greatly but now that I know how Revelation chapter 18 verse 11 reads I am comforted. Take a look particularly at the last part of that verse.

  3. Daniel Mosquin

    “for no man buyeth their merchandise any more”?
    I’ll admit to having some difficulty understanding how that can be applied, even by challenging myself to do some lateral thinking. Perhaps something about the ill of valuing material goods over more abstract things such as spiritual needs (if one is inclined that way) or the social good–and how valuing material goods won’t be sustainable in the long term?

  4. Steve Edler

    Glad you ran this story. Here in England it is easy to believe no one else is interested or cares, but that obviously is not the case. I had hoped to go to Kew this summer to see the smallest & the largest of the water lilies but that may not now be possible. A couple of years ago contacted Bristol University hoping to see their Amborella but they are not on public view. It is now obvious why not.

  5. Pat

    Perhaps I am peculiar but I see commercialisation of this plant as quite possible. A pygmy land water lily? It needs constant warm conditions and would suit many a modern centrally-heated household better than I do. Just don’t mention that it looks remarkably like a Ranunculus ficaria.
    If they don’t sell start a rumour that a Kew gardener smoked the flowers and they are better than the Blue Egyptian Lotus. Guaranteed sales.

  6. Joan Beck

    I am a pastor and theologian, and I very much appreciate the passage in Rev. 18, though I also do not see its application here. The setting of the passage is after the destruction of the feared and despised dominating empire, Babylon a.k.a. Rome. This downfall was very much wished for by the writer, though it had not happened yet. The writer imagines “the merchants of the earth” weeping and mourning over the fall of the colonial power because it had interrupted their money-making (“no one buys their cargo any more,” i.e. not the Romans). The merchants’ lament shows their moral bankruptcy, for they they value human life as little as any commodity: the list of luxury items for sale in verses 12-13 culminates in slaves, human beings. The biblical writer bitterly mocks the profiteers and protests their appalling lack of humane values.
    In passages that do relate to botany, it is remarkable that the writer of Revelation sees ecological catastrophe accompanying the empire’s destructive ways. There are many examples of this insight. The most familiar may be “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets” in chapters 8-9. The devastations enumerated include violent weather causing land and forest destruction, water pollution, plagues of insects, and a variety of “natural disasters.”

  7. Daniel Mosquin

    Thank you for the insight, Joan. Much appreciated.

  8. Christer Johansson

    I am glad that I can help with a picture at least…

Leave a Reply