The world’s most beautiful botanical crime
In February 2014, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, inaugurated an orchid show ominously titled: “Plant Hunters”. The exhibition was a journey to the past, which traced the footprints of intrepid Victorian plant hunters, who mainly stole orchids and ferns. During the event, one of the greatest botanical crimes of all time took place: the disappearance of a Nymphaea thermarum, the smallest water lily in the world, extinct in the wild and of which there are only around 100 greenhouse specimens.
Botanical crimes are not all uncommon in this type of context. According to specialist Trevor Dines, these crimes tend to fall under three categories: the casual picking of wild flowers; the large-scale theft of popular nursery plants; and the targeting of particular plants by obsessive collectors. The stealing of Kew’s Nymphaea thermarum definitely belongs to this last species because, for instance, very few people knew about the existence of this flower. Its theft was like the meticulous robbery of a museum piece.
The Nymphaea thermarum was discovered in 1987 in just one location: Mashyuza, Rwanda. But three years ago it disappeared due to the overexploitation of a hot spring that kept the plants humid and at a constant temperature. In 2009, Spanish scientific horticulturist Carlos Magdalena —a true lotus obsessive— was able to have some seeds sent to Germany, where a few species exist, albeit not in the best conditions.
Magdalena found a perfect formula to cultivate the tiny nymphaeas in Kew Gardens with a little extra carbon dioxide, and thus rescued this rare species from certain extinction.
Ever since some obsessed water lily collectors found out about it, they haven’t stopped asking the Spaniard to sell or give away seeds to them, which he has refused due to the bureaucratic problems surrounding the trafficking of species on the brink of extinction. In addition to being supremely complicated, the permits to cultivate and profit from endangered plants require the profits to go to regenerating the natural habitat of each species. Seeing they could not get their hands on a Nymphaea thermarum, the obsessed botanists only intensified their desire.
There is a clear irony in putting together an exhibition about 19th century plant hunters and then calling the police when one of the prized specimens gets stolen. Perhaps when Magdalena published his discovery of the plant and the correct way of growing it, he generated an irresistible desire among plant collectors and traffickers. In this current phase of planetary conservation (or gradual extinction) we live in, it is possible to conceive the theft of plants as part of a general and depressing acceleration: while more plants are in danger of going extinct because their habitats are destroyed, the more desirable they become for collectors because they are rare, etc.
To this day, there is no trace of the flower’s thief. Apparently solving a botanical crime is not easy. Richmond police closed the case in a matter of weeks. In the United Kingdom, the only police agency devoted to such matters is the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which has a 12 person team. And their priority is not lotuses.
Although the crime sounds like a beautiful Pink Panther episode, the near extinction of these plants is also a threat for humans. “They are the most relevant things to humans really, even though humans don’t realize it”.
Magdalena explains extinction in the most simple and intelligible manner:
Each chromosome is a letter. Each gene is a word. Each organism is a book. Each plant that is dying contains words that have only been spoken in that book. So one plant goes, one book goes, and also one language goes and perhaps a sense of words that we will never understand. What would have happened with Shakespeare with no roses? And Monet with no water lilies?
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the