Nymphaea thermarum stolen: One of world’s rarest plants taken from Kew Gardens

The plant is one of the world’s smallest species of water lily with a flower no bigger than a pound coin

Scotland Yard is investigating claims that a specialist horticultural thief carefully dug up and made off with one of the world’s rarest plants.

The Nymphaea thermarum, also known as the pygmy Rwandan water lily, vanished from a conservatory at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew on Thursday between 8.30am and 2.55pm.

The plant is one of the world’s smallest species of water lily with a flower no bigger than a pound coin. To remove it, the thief would have had to extract the tiny plant out of damp mud around a lily pond in the conservatory.

The lily was wiped out in the wild by destruction of its habitat, at a freshwater hot spring in Rwanda. The 50 or so samples at Kew are some of the only ones known to exist. The only others are held in the Bonn Botanic Gardens in Germany.

Richard Barley, director of horticulture at Kew, said: “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.”