The ‘Thermal’ Lily – Nymphaea thermarum

A rare species of African waterlily, the 'thermal’ lily (Nymphaea thermarum) from Kew Gardens (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

A rare species of African waterlily, the 'thermal’ lily (Nymphaea thermarum) from Kew Gardens (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

Tiny, colourful, jacuzzi temperature loving waterlily brought back from the brink of extinction

It is believed to be the smallest water lily in the world, with pads that can be as small as 1 cm in diameter; it is also one of the rarest. Unusually it only grows in damp mud caused by the overflow of hot springs. The water emerges at 50 °C but this remarkable plant only colonizes areas where the water has cooled to a temperature of 25 °C – which is still pretty hot, and why this bizarre plant is called the thermal Lily. It was only discovered in 1987 by Professor Fischer of Koblenz-Landau University, Germany.
View Thermal Lily. Rwanda in a larger map

This exquisite little plant is only known from one spring in the south west of Rwanda at a place called Mashyuza.  People began to draw too much groundwater from the region which means that the area of less hot water where it thrived has now disappeared. It is now extinct in the wild.

Luckily, when he discovered it Professor Fischer realised the lily was in jeopardy and transported a few specimens to the Bonn Botanic Gardens. At Bonn, horticulturists managed to preserve these valuable specimens for more than a decade, but the species proved extremely difficult to propagate, so they asked for help from colleagues at Kew Gardens (Kew). In May 2010 successful propagation of the lily was finally achieved at Kew Gardens and now there are over 30 healthy plants under cultivation. Some plants are already producing seeds so soon we may have an army of these tiny water lilies; its future in botanical collections is now secured for the long term.

Where can I see it for real?

Bonn Botanical gardens (Bonn Botanic Gardens)
Kew Gardens (Kew)

Little and large: Kew scientist and 'code breaker' Carlos Magdalena, with the tiny waterlily amongst it's larger cousins... (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

More information

Waterlily saved from extinction on BBC news

Kew Gardens factsheet

The Independent article on the “thermal lily”

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