Press Release

Banking on Life: The story of RBG Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership

Opens 4 April – 13 September 2009

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) partnership is celebrated with a summer exhibition – Banking on Life. Hosted in the Nash Conservatory, near the Main Gate, the exhibition tells the story of the first 10 years of Kew’s MSB partnership with a mix of stunning art installations, interactive displays, photography and inspiring stories. It promises to be one of the highlights of Kew’s 250th anniversary year – also the year in which Kew’s MSB partnership smashes its target of collecting and banking seeds from 10 per cent (c 30,000 species) of the world’s flowering plant species.

Bringing together art and science, the works of sculptor Tony Gibas and electron micrograph artist Rob Kesseler reveal new views of seeds. Three giant 3 metre long fibre glass devil claw seed pod sculptures by Tony Gibas hang from the ceiling in the historic Nash conservatory. These dramatic sculptures not only celebrate the aesthetics of these highly unusual seeds but also highlight the importance of the sustainable uses of plants to humans. Indigenous to the United States, the devil claw produces edible young fruits, and black fibres from the seeds are traditionally used for decorative basket weaving.  Rob Kesseler’s hyper-coloured electron micrographs of seeds magnify the complex structures of seeds, revealing details normally invisible to the naked eye. Through his images we are reminded that seeds are masterpieces of biological engineering.

The exhibition includes photographs of seed collecting in some of the world’s most spectacular, remote and biodiverse places (such as Madagascar, Burkina Faso and Chile) and hands-on displays of some of the most bizarre seed structures known, including the largest seed in the world, the coco de mer. A glass column filled with a colourful array of 300,000 seeds, showcasing the broad diversity in seed shape, structure and size, will represent the 300,000 flowering plant species in the world.

The process of seed banking is explained in every day language and the work of Kew’s MSB scientists is bought to life with a mock-up of a growth room. This is where Kew’s scientists perfect their ‘recipes’ for bringing seeds back to life. If the MSB is to act as an insurance policy against extinction, this stage in the seed banking process is vital to ensure that seeds stored in the freezing-20 C vault, can be re-grown for future generations.

The exhibition also reveals the ubiquitous and sometimes surprising role that plants play in our daily lives. It explores how since its launch in 2000, Kew’s MSB partnership has supplied thousands of seeds and information for research in areas such as water, energy, health and agriculture. The world could be losing four plant species every day due to the onset of climate change and threats such as habitat destruction. The MSB partnership – described by Sir David Attenborough as “Perhaps the most ambitious conservation initiative ever…” – is more relevant than ever.

A spectacular Seed Walk with ten huge seed willow sculptures by artist Tom Hare lines the mini-Broadwalk, leading visitors from the Main Gate towards the Nash Conservatory. Complementing the exhibition these vast sculptures – reaching up to four metres high and five metres wide – feature seeds such as the coco de mer, a conker and a lotus seed head, set against display beds planted with spring flowers for the anniversary. Five of these will be crafted on site over the summer so you can watch the artist at work. The first of these will be on the May bank holiday. For more information please go to

For further information please contact Bryony Phillips or Bronwyn Friedlander in the Kew Gardens press office on 020 8332 5607 or email

Images are available at  please contact the press office for the username and password.

Notes to Editors:

The Millennium Seed Bank is the largest wild plant seed bank filled with over a billion seeds collected from the entire globe. By 2010 seed from 10% of the world's c.300,000 wild plant species will be banked, including the rarest, most threatened and most useful species known. It already holds 96% of UK plant life, and more than 75% of threatened UK plant species.

At a critical stage in its life, with the current phase due to be completed this year. The second phase will includes a collection programme to conserve a further 15% of the world’s plant species by 2020, storing a total of 25% of known plant life. The cost of this 10 year partnership is estimated to be £100 million. These funds will need to be raised both in the UK and overseas.

The Partnership has developed a global network of 123 organisations from 54 countries, making it unique in its capacity to collect, conserve and research a major proportion of the world’s flora. Seeds preserved in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank are also stored in their country of origin, and assistance to support this through facilities, advice and training is as important as the seed collecting itself.

Opening hours
29 March – 29 August: 
Mon - Fri:   9.30am – 5.30pm. Glasshouses, Galleries and the Treetop Walkway close at 5.30pm.

Weekends: 9.30am – 7.30pm.Glasshouses and Galleries close at 5.30. Treetop Walkway closes at 6.30pm.

29 August - 13 September: See for opening hours

Admission: Adults £13, Concessions £11, free for children under 17 (accompanied by an adult)

Visitor enquiries: 020 8332 5655 or Website:

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world.  Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction and its 132 hectares of landscaped gardens attract over one million visitors per year.  Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2009. For further information please visit

For further Press information please contact:


Public Relations
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Surrey TW9 3AB

Tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5607/5619


Wakehurst Place:

Public Relations
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Wakehurst Place
West Sussex RH17 6TN

Tel: +44 (0)1444 894018