LONDON - A minuscule, nearly extinct water lily has been stolen from London's Royal Botanic Gardens, officials said Monday.
Britain's Metropolitan Police said the flower theft took place sometime Thursday when a Nymphaea thermarum, considered the world's smallest water lily, was pulled from a shallow pond in a glasshouse at the garden in Kew, west London.
The Botanic Garden's director of horticulture, Richard Barley, called the incident "a blow to morale."
The lily - so rare that it doesn't have a common name - was discovered growing in the damp mud of a hot water spring in southwest Rwanda by a German botanist in the 1980s. The minuscule plant grows delicate white flowers with yellow stamens and lily pads as small as 1 centimeter (around one third of an inch) across.
When the mud around the Rwandan spring dried up in 2008, the plant disappeared from the wild, but the gardens' Youki Crump said in an email that a handful had since been successfully reintroduced to the area.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1759, is among the world's premier organizations for plant conservation. Its second site, in southern England, hosts the Millennium Seed Bank, a project aimed at safeguarding the future of the world's wild plants.