LONDON — In a little warm puddle in rural Rwanda, a tiny flower used to grow — a water lily, barely half an inch across.
It was discovered in 1985 by Eberhard Fischer, a German botanist, and it lived only in one hot volcanic spring, in a place called Mashyuza.
The aquatic plant had survived there for perhaps millions of years, possibly since the area was a giant lake. But, in 2008, the spring was diverted to provide water for a laundry. Immediately, an entire species was obliterated.
Or almost obliterated. Mr. Fischer had brought a few specimens home with him, to the botanical garden in Bonn, West Germany, where he worked. He was able to keep them alive, reasonably happily. But no one was able to work out how to make the plants flower or reproduce. The tiny lily appeared to be doomed.
Mr. Fischer and his colleagues tried…
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