A couple of weeks ago an international team of botanists based at Wakehurst Place in southern England achieved their primary goal of collecting and preserving seeds from ten percent of the worlds flowering plants.
Click this picture to see it in vista-vision!
This important milestone is part of the Kew Millennium Seed Bank Partnership‘s attempt to preserve a quarter of the world’s flowering plants by 2020.
The seeds collected for the first stage amount to about 24,200 species, and, given that the field researchers needed to collect thousands of samples of each species, that’s a staggering number of individual seeds.
(I found mention of the total given as 1.6 billion seeds so far.)
The reason why so many seeds are collected is that project partners must set aside half of the total haul and periodically test the viability of these samples to make sure that they can actually germinate and grow.
The other half constitutes the bio-base of the seedbank that will be kept for long term storage – between 300 and 500 years.
That’s enough numbers for now.
I was able to take a few pictures deep inside the Millennium Seed Bank the other day, that show what that enormous quantity of seeds looks like once they have been cleaned, dried and chilled to minus 20℃.
A little context: I was part of The Bamboo Society annual general meeting, and Ray Townsend (Arboretum Manager at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) had kindly arranged for the AGM to be held at Wakehurst Place in a conference room within the Millennium Seed Bank.
After our meeting we were lucky enough to be shown round the facility by the international coordinator of Kew Gardens’ millennium seed bank project, Michiel van Slageren, a man gifted with a great sense of humour that rides easily upon his compendious knowledge of plants and the places where they grow.
Michiel van Slageren in the Namib Desert examining a Welwitchia mirabilis that subsists almost entirely on fog. Yes. Fog.
This weirdo of the plant world has only two leaves and can live anything from 1000 to 2000 years.
This next picture shows him unlocking the hefty security door of the millennium seed bank.
The seed bank is deep below ground level in what is effectively a blast proof bunker.
-20℃ is the ideal temperature for longterm storage. – Click for bigger!
The two rooms you can see here contain the seeds of one tenth of the world’s biodiversity. One is for long term storage, and the second houses the duplicate seeds whose viability will be regularly tested.
There is the capacity to extend more of these chill rooms into extra space within the bunker to accommodate future collections. There’s room to store up to half the world’s wild flowering plant species. We had better make sure that the money will be there to maintain this most precious storehouse.
I admired the space saving devices that create instant corridors between the storage drawers. Just turn the three armed levers to move the racks.
Of course, Kew is not alone in building a seed bank. There are hundreds of long term seed banks throughout the world, but the vast majority of them are maintained for agricultural seed storage.
One of the most striking agricultural seed banks is in Svalbard, in the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. It’s sited in a very dramatic location.
The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4,5 million different seed samples. Each sample will contain on average 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2,25 billion seeds may be stored in the Seed Vault. The Seed Vault will therefore have the capacity to hold all the unique seed samples that are conserved today by all the approximately 1400 genebanks that are found in more than 100 countries all over the world.
Check out the amazing photos of this “Doomsday” project by clicking the link here.
Have a look at the Wikipedia entry here, and there’s a walk-through tour available here.
Last word: Don’t miss this amazing little gallery of seed photos.