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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Rustlers, Robbers, and other Thieves

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, January 14, 2014/Categories: natural history, sustainability, environment

Reports of wildlife poaching typically focus on killing of elephants for their tusks being exported to Asia for carved trinkets or rhinos for their horns used as knife handles and phony aphrodisiacs. We rarely hear about the illegal trade in plants. Collectors in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere purchase rare cacti ripped from deserts to unique orchids found in rainforests. Who would think a water lily might be a target of plant rustlers but that is what happened at the UK's National Botanical Gardens.

According to  reports  a singularly rare waterlily, Nymphaea thermarum, was snatched from one of the greenhouses at the famous Kew Gardens in England. The theft of plant material from display gardens and other botanical institutions is a constant concern and security cameras at Kew didn't catch the thief.

The story of the rare lily is particularly poignant being one of discovery, recovery, and now loss.

Nymphaea thermarum  (credit: Wiki-commons)

According to accounts, "the rare water lily's habitat was a damp mud zone formed by runoff from a freshwater hot spring in the central African nation of Rwanda. The dwarf plant became extinct in the wild about 2008 when local farmers diverted the flow of the spring, which dried up the tiny area—a few square feet—which was the lily's entire habitat. Before it became extinct, the German discoverer sent specimens to the garden in Bonn, Germany where they were grown and produced seeds."

However, the Bonn horticulturalists couldn't solve the problem of propagating the pygmy lily from seeds. They eventually attempted replicating the conditions of the original hot spring environment in a growth chamber. This induced the seeds to germinate and a few lily plants were propagated. These were sent to Kew for protection.

The illegal trade in wildlife is especially ugly. Besides the destruction of a natural resource, most of the animals and plants in the trade die in transit. It's especially sad when a rare plant could be propagated commercially and sold as a potted planted in the supermarket or garden center like the African waterlily. This never occurs to rustlers, robbers and thieves who traffic in stolen lifeforms.




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