Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Orchid Seed Science and Sustainable Use (OSSSU)

To create and manage a global orchid conservation network to conserve, as seed, species from diverse habitats of varying levels of threat. To utilise biotechnological approaches to re-introduce threatened plants; enhance institutional and country capacity for orchid conservation, and serve as a global access point for integrated orchid conservation programmes.

OSSSU partners at the September 2010 Workshop at Jardín Botánico Lankester in Costa Rica
OSSSU partners at the September 2010 Workshop at Jardín Botánico Lankester in Costa Rica.

Orchid species, estimated at ~25,000 species, represents one of the largest families in the plant kingdom. Their populations extend over all landmasses except Antarctica. Orchids occupy a range of habitats, and have evolved complex relationships with pollinators and symbiotic fungi. These specific life styles, or the habitats they occupy, have lead many to be highly threatened due to climate change, habitat degradation, loss of pollinators and over-collection for their ornamental value or for use in traditional medicine. Concern for the sustainable conservation of this unique germplasm has resulted in the creation of orchid seed banks in countries centring on biodiversity hotspots in Latin America and Asia. Initially funded by a Darwin Initiative programme (Defra; £220 k, 2007-2010 and gift-in-kind contributions of £429K; The ‘Orchid Seed Science and Sustainable Use’ (OSSSU) project, managed by Kew staff, started with the primary aim of promoting the development of orchid seed conservation science across sixteen countries in Latin America and Asia. This not only established banking facilities for native species, but promoted and publicised the science underlying the principles of seed storage and orchid conservation in these countries, and the training of young scientists to ensure a legacy for the future. The project is expanding to embrace Research Institutes and Botanic Gardens in over thirty countries and forty institutes engaged in broader aspects of orchid conservation. A principle target is to conserve two thousand species by 2016, of which four hundred could be from China alone.

Orchids produce prodigious numbers of seeds ranging from thousands to millions per fruit, providing ideal targets for the long-term conservation of diverse germplasm and the capacity for large-scale re-introduction following either symbiotic (mycorrhizal fungi) or asymbiotic (complex in vitro media) germination. OSSSU enabled the controlled pollinations of >500 species, the banking at -20°C of >300 species, and the germination on a common (Knudson C) medium of >200 species. This is the first time that such a diverse range of species have been compared under common conditions. Results have shown rapid loss of viability in some Coelogyne species, and how pre-conditioning seeds (Cattleya) with sucrose can improve rapid viability assessment with tetrazolium. Better understanding of lipid biophysics is likely to inform storage strategies (under the Research theme ‘Frozen Planet’), such as the wider application of cryopreservation. It is an intention of the network to exchange pollen and seed between partners to improve the genetic stock of living collections.

Key to the success of the project has been in the level of communication the project has achieved through the promotion of orchid conservation in the participating countries. Such publicity has ensured the leverage of in-country funding, elevated the profile of orchid conservation, and encouraged local collaboration. To date this has been via the cascade training of five technicians, 104 undergraduates, ten master-level staff (including teachers), four PhD students and student exchanges between laboratories. We have published 17 papers and books, nine newsletter articles and more than thirty newspaper and web items. A particular success has been in the translation of “Growing Orchids from Seed” (Seaton and Ramsay, 2009) into Spanish, and its future publication in Chinese. Ready access and exchange of information is being facilitated through a website ( and a regular newsletter (Orchid Science Letters) launched in 2011. Further outreach of this project is being achieved through charitable bodies. In the UK, this is through knowledge transfer to national collection holders (Plant Heritage), and incorporating them into OSSSU through the establishment of a 'Citizen Science' project. Internationally, this is through Orchid Conservation International, who are promoting our activities world-wide.

The network continues to expand to include further countries in Latin America and Asia, but also Europe, North America and Africa. Our aim is to construct a Global Orchid Facility on the web with a strong educational focus; a “one stop shop” where members of the network can access information on various topics topics including seed viability, viability testing, storage regimes, germination media and seed capsule maturation times.

Project partners and collaborators


Laboratorio Biotecnologia Biofan


Centro Politécnico - UFPR

Cayman Islands

National Trust of the Cayman Islands


Instituto De Investigaciones Agropecuarias
Jardín Botánico Nacional


Beijing Botanic Gardens
Hainan University
Huanglong Nature Reserve
Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden
Kunming Institute Of Botany
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden


Fundación Jardín Botánico De Cali
La Asociacion Vallecaucana de Orquideología
Vivero Medio Dapa

Costa Rica

Estación Biológica La Selva
Jardín Botánico Lankester


Jardín Botánico Orquideario Soroa

Dominican Republic

Jardín Botánico Nacional


Universidad De Cuenca
Jardín Botánico De Quito
Universidad Técnica Particular De Loja


Estonian University Of Life Sciences


Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Orchid conservation in West Africa)
Jardin Botanique de la Ville de Lyon


Universidad Del Valle De Guatemala

Hong Kong

Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden


Bogor Botanic Garden


Botanical Survey of India
National Research Centre for Orchids, Darjeeling and National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources


Università Degli Studi Della Tuscia


National Center of Agricultural Research and Extension


Paksong Orchid Project


Instituto De Geología, UNAM

Jardín Botánico Regional El Soconusco

Annex material

Key papers published since 2010:
Hosomi, S.T., Custodio, C.C., Seaton, P.T., Marks, T.R. & Machado-Neto, N.B. (2011) Improved assessment of viability and germination of Cattleya (Orchidaceae) seeds following storage. In Vitro Celleular & Developmental Biology – Plant 48: 127-136 (IF=1.060).

Nadarajan, J., Wood, S., Marks, T.R., Seaton, P.T. & Pritchard, H.W. (2011) Nutritional requirements for in vitro seed germination of 12 terrestrial, lithophytic and epiphytic orchids. Journal of Tropical Forest Science 23: 204-212 (IF=0.500).

Hosomi, S.T., Santos, R.B., Custodio, C.C., Seaton, P.T., Marks, T.R. & Machado-Neto, N.B. (2011) Preconditioning Cattleya seeds to improve the efficacy of the tetrazolium test for viability. Seed Science and Technology 39: 178-189 (IF=0.605).

Seaton, P.T., Hu, H., Perner, H. & Pritchard, H.W. (2010) Ex situ conservation of orchids in a warming world. Botanical Review 72: 193-203 (IF=2.657).

Conferences and workshops:
Major Workshops bringing together the scientists from the collaborating institutes were held at:

• Chengdu, China October 11th – 15th, 2007
• Quito, Ecuador November 7th – 12th, 2007
• San José, Costa Rica September 13th – 17th, 2010
• Shenzhen, PR China April 25th – 27th,2012
• Soroa, Cuba October 23rd – 24th, 2012

More than thirty other talks or poster presentations at conferences to >1,500 scientists and conservationists, including:

Seaton, P.T., Marks, T.R., Perner, H., Jijon, C., Pritchard, H.W. (2007). Orchid seed banking takes off. Second Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids,14-17th November, Loja, Ecuador.

Seaton, P.T. and Pritchard, H.W. (2009). Orchid Seed Stores for Sustainable Use: a model for future seed-banking activities. Third Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids, 4-8th February, Quito, Ecuador.

Pritchard, H.W. (2010). Sustainable seed supply for orchid horticulture and conservation. 29th Congress of the International Seed Testing Association, 15th-22nd June, Cologne, Germany.

Seaton, P.T., Ferreira, D., Kendon, J., Morales, I., Neto, N., Perdomo, V., Pritchard, H.W., Puspitaningtyas, D.M., Richards, M., Thammasiri, K., Yam, T., Marks, T.R. (2011) An Integrated Strategy for the Ex situ Conservation of Orchids. 20th Word Orchid Conference, 13th – 22nd November, Singapore

Seaton, P.T., P (2012). Orchid Conservation: where do we go from here? 8th International Workshop of Orchids, 23rd – 25th October, Soroa, Cuba.

Marks, T.R., Seaton, P.T. Pritchard, W.W. (2012). Orchid seed conservation; identifying constraints. 8th International Workshop of Orchids, 23rd – 25th October Soroa, Cuba.

Seaton, P.T., Kendon, J.P, Pritchard, H.W., Puspitaningtyas, D.M., Marks. T.R. (2012). Orchid Conservation: the next ten years. 4th Scientific Conference on Andean Orchids, 31st October – 4th November 2012, Guayaquil, Ecuador

OSSSU webpage (
OSSSU Darwin Initiative final report (




Project team

Seed Conservation Department

Dr T Marks, Prof. HW Pritchard, P Seaton.

Project Leader: