UK: Kew gives world's smallest waterlily a reprieve


The tiny 'Thermal' lily, Nymphaea thermarum, with pads as little as 1cm in diameter, has been successfully grown at Kew by expert propagator Carlos Magdalena.

tiny water lily growing at kew gardens

The very rare African waterlily, Nymphaea thermarum, propagated at Kew.

© Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew

Known from only one location in southwest Rwanda the lily lives in freshwater hot springs (hence the name 'thermal'). Over-exploitation of the watercourse that fed the springs has meant it hasn't been seen in the wild since 2008 and it's believed no individuals survived this habitat disruption.

Discovered in 1987 by German botanist Professor Eberhard Fischer of Koblenz-Landau University, Germany he realised the species was in jeopardy and transported a few specimens to Bonn Botanic Gardens soon after its discovery. At Bonn, horticulturists were successful at preserving these valuable specimens and indeed they lasted for more than a decade. However, the species proved extremely difficult to propagate.

The challenge passed to Kew and Magdalena, who had a track record in propagating difficult plants. After months of trial and error he finally cracked the secret. Please visit the Kew website for the full dramatic story.

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