Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rare Plant Theft

Nymphaea thermarum, the smallest water lily in the world
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Why should we care if a rare plant is stolen from a botanical garden, dug in the wild for collecting, conserving or propagating for profit, or bulldozed because its habitat is planned for a “higher” use? In January, an endangered tiny tropical water lily, Nymphaea thermarum, was spirited away by a visitor from Kew Gardens, the world’s largest collection of living plants. So what? In a fascinating article, The Guardian reporter Sam Knight investigates what happens when plant obsession turns criminal.

Getting back to the tongue-in-cheek “so what” question, as the article points out, plants are the basis of most medicines. If a plant becomes extinct, who knows what illness might not be curable as a result? Who knows what other species need it to survive? And as Kew Gardens’ plant ‘codebreaker’ Carlos Magdalena poetically explains: 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,” he said. “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?” 

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