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Cactus Seed Biology Database - COMPLETED

An international project to produce a comprehensive summary of cactus seed biology from experimental research and from the literature (both published and institutional reports), to enhance understanding and conservation of this socio-economic important family.
Eriosyce chilensis is a coastal species endemic to Chile and is at risk of extinction.  (Photo: Dr Pedro Leon-Lobos)

The Cactaceae are a diverse family of over 1400 species, predominately located across vast areas of North and South America, in a range of habitats from arid deserts to tropical rainforests. Cacti have great value in terms of nutrition, medicine, raw materials, ceremonial purposes and ornamental appeal, making these species important in the daily life of people both locally and throughout the world. However, as a result of overuse, habitat destruction and the fact that longer-lived perennials are at greater risk of extinction due to environmental perturbation, many taxa are judged to be of conservation concern. Global recognition by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and national conservation organisations place several species at risk from extinction immediately and many at risk in the near future unless urgent action is taken. To ensure the most appropriate action is taken, an understanding of the biology of both plants and seeds is first needed. Seeds are particularly important, as germination is the first step to produce the next generation of plants.

Published research on cactus seed biology includes data for many traits, such as germination, dormancy, dispersal and morphology. However, there tends to be a bias in which species are studied and some data are not easily accessible; for example, from institutional reports and student theses. To produce a more comprehensive summary of cactus seed biology, the Cactus Seed Biology Database project was set up in 2006 between the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and 11 institutes from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and USA. This project forms part of the ‘Seed Futures’ research theme. Through experimental research on 86 taxa in-country/at Kew, and a review of the literature (both published and grey), the ‘Cactus Seed Biology Database’ was released in 2009 as a CD-ROM containing information on over 350 species, with up to 15 traits on the seeds (such as germination and mass) and on the plants (such as distribution and physiology) including images. The database has been distributed to many organisations including the IUCN and requested by numerous researchers.

The main outputs of the project are the production of the ‘Cactus Seed Biology Database’ CD-ROM and publications in peer-review journal. Supervision of numerous national and international visitors and students have contributed to the project outputs (1 x college-based sandwich course student; 3 x BSc; 2 x MSc; 1 x PhD; 1 x post-doctorate).

Over the next five years, the database will be updated to account for new knowledge on cactus seed biology, both from the literature and research collaborations. Traits will be added to the database including the light requirement for germination, the thermal time for germination and scanning electron microscope images of the seeds. It is also planned to increase the accessibility of the database by converting it to a web-based database.

Project partners and collaborators


Universidad Nacional de Salta
Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria
Banco Base de Germoplasma, CIRN-CNIA- INTA, Buenos Aires


Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias


National Enterprise for Flora and Fauna Protection, Santa Clara

Dominican Republic

Jardin Botanico Nacional ¨Dr Rafael Maria Moscoso¨, Santo Domingo


Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica, San Luis Potosí
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro
Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán


Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Lima


Bureau of Land Management , Arizona
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas


Project funders

Millennium Seed Bank Enhancement Project

Annex material

Key publications since 2006:

Flores, J., Jurado, E., Chapa-Vargas, L., Ceroni Stuva, A., Dávila Aranda, P., Galíndez, G., Gurvich, D., León-Lobos, P., Ordoñez, C., Ortega-Baes, P., Ramírez Bullón, N., Sandoval, A., Seal, C.E., Ulian, T. & Pritchard H.W. (2011). Seeds photoblastism and its relationship with some plant traits in 136 cacti taxa. Environmental and Experimental Botany 71: 79-88 (IF 2.699).

Ortega-Baes, P., Galíndez, G., Sühring, S., Rojas-Aréchiga, M., Daws, M.I. & Pritchard H.W. (2011). Seed germination of Echinopsis schickendantzii (Cactaceae): the effects of constant and alternating temperatures. Seed Science and Technology 39: 219-224 (IF 0.605).

Seal, C.E., Flores, J., Ceroni Stuva, A., Dávila Aranda, P., León-Lobos, P., Ortega-Baes, P., Galíndez, G., Aparicio-González, M.A., Castro Cepero, V., Daws, M.I., Eason, M., Flores Ortiz, C.M., del Fueyo, P.A., Olwell, P., Ordoñez, C., Peñalosa Castro, I., Quintanar Zúñiga, R., Ramírez Bullón, N., Rojas-Aréchiga, M., Rosas, M., Sandoval, A., Stuppy, W., Ulian, T., Vázquez Medrano, J., Walter, H., Way, M. & Pritchard, H.W. (2009) The Cactus Seed Biology Database (release 1). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Seal, C.E., Kranner, I. and Pritchard, H.W. (2008). Quantification of seed oil from species with varying oil content using supercritical fluid extraction. Phytochemical Analysis 19: 493-498 (IF 1.848; times cited = 4).

Daws, M.I., Kabadajic, A., Manger, K. & Kranner, I. (2007) Extreme thermo-tolerance in seeds of desert succulents is related to maximum annual temperature. South African Journal of Botany 73: 262-265 (IF 1.106).

Links to other projects:
Climate Change and Species Vulnerability
Sustained Plant Conservation in the Insular Caribbean
Ex situ Conservation of Plant Germplasm from Arid and Semi-Arid Zones of Mexico