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Kew Magazine October post

Christina Harrison
16 October 2009
Blog team: 
Seeds of hope

There has been a fantastic amount of press this week around Kew’s latest greatest bit of news – that the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has succeeded in its first goal of collecting the seeds of ten per cent of the world’s flowering plants.

I loved the fact that the 24,200th seed to be banked was that of a pink banana! Everyone can relate to that and it’s sure to raise a smile. It was the Yunnan banana to be precise – Musa itinerans – and it’s a perfect example of why the MSBP is so important.

This banana is a food source for wildlife including the Asian elephant, while the flowers and stems are used in certain Chinese dishes. As we know, the banana beloved of our supermarket shelves is under threat from several viruses, so protecting wild banana species could help to breed disease resistance into one of the world's favourite fruits.

Sadly, there is the familiar story that the habitat of Musa itinerans is under threat, so saving the seeds now could prove vital for the survival of this species. Many of the seeds that the MSBP have prioritised are from threatened habitats and of tropical crop species that humanity needs.

Behind the scenes

In the autumn issue of Kew magazine we celebrated the achievement of the ten per cent milestone, and went behind the scenes with one of the busiest teams at the seed bank – the curation staff – the people who actually bank the seed, and show just what a seed has to go through to make it to the freezing vaults beneath Wakehurst. Take a look.

Kew magazine has a regular feature (called cuttings) of some of the latest plant science stories from around the world, in the autumn issue we featured some great seedy stories, including how scientists at the MSBP have compared the life spans of 195 wild plant species from a variety of habitats to figure out why certain types of seeds live longer than others. This is important for all seed banks as species known to be short-lived need to be tested on a more frequent basis to see if they are still viable. There's little point storing dead seeds after all!

On the other side of the world meanwhile, a unique Australian species with the wonderful name of shining nematolepsis (Nematolepsis wilsonii) has been saved thanks to its seeds being stored in the MSB and Victoria Conservation Seedbank. All 500 known trees were destroyed in the devastating bush fires of 2008, but thanks to seed collecting some 150 new trees have been propagated and reintroduced to nearby intact bushland areas.

Hope is seed-shaped

As one of the world’s most ambitious conservation projects, the MSBP holds at its heart that in a seed there is a world of opportunity.
If you want to get more involved why not adopt a seed to save a species with Kew’s new campaign? It will help us achieve the next great target – 25 per cent of the world's plants' seeds saved by 2020.

Could make a fabulously different Christmas present for someone?

All images copyright of RBG Kew

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