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Saving the seeds of love

Gemma Toothill
13 February 2012
Come with me to the underground storage vault at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank to discover more about the heart marked seeds of 'love-in-a-puff' (Cardiospermum halicacabum).

Today I have headed into the freezer to discover more about 'love-in-a-puff'. 

Heart detail on seeds of Cardiospermum halicacabum (Image: Ellen Woods)

There are over 2 billion seeds from more than 30,000 plant species stored in the vaults at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank. I went to the depths of this underground freezer to find one of the 17 collections of Cardiospermum halicacabum.

Over the last ten years we have received collections of this species sent in from Venezuela, Burkina Faso, Mali, Texas and Turks & Caicos. The plant has many medicinal properties and has been used in the treatment of rheumatism, eczema, ear ache, nervous diseases, stiffness of the limbs and swelling, to name but a few.

Flowers and fruits of Cardiospermum halicacabum (Image: Wolfgang Stuppy) 

Originating from Tropical America Cardiospermum halicacabum is a scrambling deciduous vine growing up to 3 m long. It is not the flowers that are showy but rather the inflated seed capsules, which give it the common name 'balloon vine'.

The capsules have three compartments, each one containing a single black spherical seed. The seed is fixed to its compartment by a small attachment, and as this loving attachment breaks, it leaves a white heart shaped scar.

The name is a Latinization of the Greek: kardia meaning heart, and sperma meaning seed.


 Jars from the vault containing Cardiospermum halicacabum seeds (Image: Gemma Toothill)

And this plant has other names as well. Cardiospermum halicacabum with its wonderful lantern-like balloon fruits and its seeds scarred with hearts is also romantically referred to as ‘love-in-a-puff’.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

- Gemma -



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