'Priceless' African water lily stolen from London's Kew Gardens

Story highlights

  • The tiny Nymphaea thermarum is stolen from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
  • The water lily is the smallest in the world and incredibly rare
  • It was saved from extinction by horticulturalists at Kew and in Germany
  • It was discovered in 1987, growing in the mud by a freshwater hot spring in Rwanda
In a crime that will shock the green-fingered, a thief has made off with the tiny water lily Nymphaea thermarum -- one of the rarest plants in the world -- from a botanical gardens in London.
The plant, of which only a handful of specimens still exist in the wild, was stolen from a lily pond at the famed Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, police said.
The thief is thought to have dug or pulled it from the damp, temperature-controlled mud it needs to survive.
Kew Gardens is one of only two places in the world to cultivate this plant, and there were only 30 plants on display, London's Metropolitan Police said. They cite its value as "priceless" because of its rarity.
The stolen plant may have been easier to sneak out of the botanic garden, which has its own security, because of its small size.
The plant's bright green lily pads can measure as little as 1 centimeter (less than half an inch) across, and its white flower with yellow stamen is barely bigger than a fingernail.
Fragile habitat
The Nymphaea thermarum was discovered in 1987 by German botanist Eberhard Fischer at a thermal freshwater spring in Mashyuza, Rwanda -- the only known location in the wild.
However, over-exploitation of this hot spring meant the fragile habitat dried up, and the water lily died