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Collections from the Caribbean

David Hickmott
28 February 2012
Blog team: 
Follow a Millennium Seed Bank collector on an expedition to the Dominican Republic to save threatened and useful plants.

My name is David Hickmott and I am a member of the Seed Conservation Department at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst.

Part of my job involves training our partners in seed banking practices and seed collecting all around the world. So far I have been involved in four expeditions to both Texas and California in the USA, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and most recently, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Making a collection of Asteraceae on a dangerous cliff edge!

The Dominican Republic is a country of contrasts

It has both the highest peak and the lowest point in the Caribbean, and the distance between modern urban street life in Santo Domingo and the very basic rural villages only a short drive away.

During my 18 day trip I was based at the Jardin Botanical Garden in the country's capital Santo Domingo. Here they have magnificent gardens and also the beginnings of a native seed bank which I was there to give technical and procedural support to as well as help with some extensive seed collecting.

The first week of my visit saw us travel the length of the island from top to bottom. Travelling with two experienced local botanists and a colleague from Kew, Tiziana Ulian, we made 39 seed collections of targeted threatened and useful plant species. Towards the north of the Island, near the border of Haiti, the terrain gets quite mountainous. 

View from Monte Cristi at the North West corner of the Dominican Republic.

Collecting seeds

When seed collecting we firstly have to make sure our targeted plants are producing healthy seeds. This can be done by performing a cut test to look at the quality and maturity of the seed. If the seeds are ready to be harvested we ideally try to collect from at least 50 individual plants and make a collection of up to 20,000 seeds!

We also collected seeds from many different palm species which was very difficult as you can imagine as the seeds can be over 15 feet in the air!

Teodoro Clase harvesting palm seeds using an extendable lopper.

At the end of our first week we drove back to Santo Domingo with our truck full of seeds. The staff at Jardin Botanic Garden got to work straight away removing seeds from wet fruits and starting to dry the collections.

The following week we traveled to the coast on the north of the island, again making another 20 collections and staying in some very basic and ‘interesting’ hotels!

We do not normally bring back the collected seeds with us to the UK. The seeds I collected were fully cleaned by the staff at the gardens and also dried in silica gel barrels to ensure the longevity of the collected species. They were then shipped to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex for long term storage and extensive research.

It's hard work!

It is rare that you get much time off on such collecting trips, there’s so much to pack in! Working 12 hour days in 90 degree heat takes its toll so I added on two days annual leave at the end of my trip. I used this time to explore an amazing small island just off the coast and got some much needed relaxation time!

- David -


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19 November 2012
I wish David wrote all the blogs!
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10 March 2012
Sounds like a very interesting and worthwhile job!
5 March 2012
Fantastic work for a great cause, well done!
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