Millennium Seed Bank blog
Welcome to the Millennium Seed Bank blog. There is a lot going on behind the scenes at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) - not only here at Wakehurst but also with our partners all over the globe. We will be blogging about our seed collecting trips, local events, research projects and discoveries as well as everyday goings on.
We currently have seeds from more than 30,000 species of wild plants in long term storage and continue to receive seed collections from all over the world. It is an amazing place to work and we hope to share our passion for seed conservation with you via our blogs.
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.
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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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 -
- The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership
- Storing Seeds at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank
- Cardiospermum halicacabum as used by traditional healers in India
- Project MGU - the Useful Plants Project
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The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership works with over 50 countries worldwide as we work towards our current goal of collecting and storing seeds from 25% of the world's wild plant species. To complete such a target requires a wide range of skills and expertise including training, research, seed processing, database management and fundraising.
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