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Banks Generate Rising Interest

Robyn Diamond

We are hearing more and more about the importance of seed banks, where all sorts of seeds are stored for all sorts of reasons. Here is a quick rundown on some of the world's seedbanks, including that of the Australian Native Plants Society.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and Kew

A third of New South Wales's flora is now stored in seedbanks in NSW and the UK as insurance against climate change.

   Acacia pubescens
   Acacia pubescens

Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens Trust, Dr Tim Entwisle said the 1000th seed sample had been sent to the UK, representing a significant achievement for the conservation of NSW plants.

"We now have a third of the State's flora in our seedbank," Dr Entwisle said. "The 1000th collection is from the rare Acacia pubescens, which is listed as a vulnerable species.

"Our next big challenge is to focus on rainforest seeds. Nearly 2000 Australian rainforest species have seeds that are sensitive to drying out and can't be stored easily in our seedbank.

"We will collect a variety of rainforest species and test cryostorage and other techniques" he said.

Leader of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project, Dr Paul Smith, said by 2010, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project and its 50 other partner countries will have collected and conserved seeds from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species.

"The species for collection and conservation include the rarest, most threatened and most useful species known to man. These seed collections are used in scientific research and the potential benefits of the chosen species range from food, medicine and building materials for rural communities to disease-resistant crops for agriculture,' he said.

Australia's biodiversity is of global significance, making its contribution to the project of immense importance. It's home to 14 per cent of globally threatened plant species and is one of only 12 'mega diverse' countries. The estimated 20,000 flowering plant species found in Australia make up 6.5 per cent of the world's total.

More at the Botanic Garden's Trust website

Australian National Botanic Gardens

The ANBG is currently the custodian of one of the largest collections (in terms of species) of seed of Australian native species with about 4,500 accessions from 2,300 taxa.

There are two main types of seeds based on their storage characteristics. Orthodox seeds can be dried and stored frozen, and recalcitrant seeds cannot tolerate severe dehydration and so cannot be preserved using these traditional methods. The ANBG seed bank only stores orthodox seed.

The ANBG seed bank supplies seed to produce seedlings for planting at ANBG, acts as a genebank for long term storage of rare and threatened flora, and supplies seed to other institutions through its plant release program.

From the Australian National Botanic Gardens website


Florabank is funded by the Australian Government and delivered by Greening Australia and CSIRO. Florabank recognises and shares the best available knowledge from research and practice in native species seed management. It supports the seed industry, encouraging quality and choice for buyers of native seed. The Florabank website has a range of useful guidelines, including Seed collection ranges for revegetation and Using native grass seed in revegetation.

From the Florabank website

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard global seed vault in Norway will contribute to securing the world's genetic diversity for cultivated plants, with the permafrost close to the North Pole making the vault an ideal secure depository.

The seed collections in the 1400 gene banks around the world are important to future agriculture and food production. Many of the world's most important collections are located in areas that may be politically and climatically unstable.

The three-cavern vault is 130 metres inside the permafrost and has a total floor area of 1000 m2. It can hold almost five million seed packages. The natural temperature of minus 3-4 oC will be brought down to minus 18oC by cooling systems.

Hibiscus geranioides
Svalbard Global Seed Vault - Drawing: Global Crop Diversity Trust

From the website of Norway's Ministry of Agriculture and Food

ANPS Canberra Region's Seed Bank

Seed for the Australian Native Plant Society's seed bank is collected by members for the use of all members. Generally there are no limits on the use of the seeds, except that seeds are not provided for use overseas. This supports conservation of native species in Australia and the fact that the Society doesn't want to inadvertently contribute to Australian species becoming weeds elsewhere. The Society does not sell or trade in seed or provide seed to people who are not members. (Ed. Similar seed banks are also operated by other ASGAP regional groups).

From the ANPS (Canberra) website

From the newsletter of the Australian Native Plants Society (Canberra), June 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2008
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants