Smallest lily saved from extinction

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The Independent Online

The world's smallest water lily, which was found growing in hot springs in Africa, has been brought back from the brink of extinction by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

The diminutive plant, whose lily pads measure only 1cm across, vanished from the wild two years ago after the hot springs which were its only known location in Mashyuza, Rwanda, dried up when their water was extracted for agriculture.

Known as the "thermal" water lily, Nymphea thermarum was discovered in 1985 by German botanist Professor Eberhard Fischer. Realising it was in jeopardy, Professor Fischer transported specimens to Bonn Botanic Gardens, where horticulturists were able to keep them alive but could not work out how to propagate them. However, Kew horticulturist Carlos Magdalena used the description of the plant's natural habitat – in mud on the springs' edge – to solve the mystery, exposing them to the air and consequently higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and oxygen than are found under water.

Down to his last batch of seeds from Bonn, he tried the different technique, and "suddenly everything came together", he said.