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Public understanding of fruit and seed biology

Project overview
The unique resources at the Millennium Seed Bank are being used to produce high-quality educational materials about fruits and seeds that appeal both to professional audiences (university-level lectures) and a wider public (high-quality popular scientific books). The aim of this project is to increase public understanding and support for the conservation work of RBG Kew, especially the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.

'Combining Science & Art' to raise public awareness for seed conservation:

Inspired by the publication of Pollen – The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers by Rob Kesseler and Madeline Harley in 2004, the Millennium Seed Bank’s Seed Morphologist, Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy, collaborated with artist Prof. Rob Kesseler from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London to produce three popular scientific books focusing on the on the biology of fruits and seeds within a conservation context. The books are designed to reach a wide audience so as to increase public understanding of Kew’s international conservation work and the importance seed conservation. Key attraction of the books are scanning electron micrographs of fruits, seeds and pollen which were subsequently artistically enhanced by Rob Kesseler. The books have received much attention in the press, both within the UK and worldwide. In 2007, the first book, Seeds – Time Capsules of Life has won a Gold Medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York, category Outstanding Book of the Year. In 2008, the second book, Fruit – Edible, Inedible, Incredible has won a Gourmand Award (Special Award of the Jury).
Foreign co-editions of all three books have been published in USA/Canada and Germany; Japanese co-editions have been agreed and are due to be published autumn 2012. In addition to this, French and Chinese editions of The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants have been published in France, Taiwan and mainland China, respectively.

University-level training courses:

The structure and function of fruits and seeds in a biological context is a subject that is rarely studied or taught in 21st century botany, despite the importance of seeds for conservation, especially habitat restoration. The unique resource provided by the collections of the Millennium Seed Bank have been and still are being used to create and continuously expand a set of university-level lectures which have proven to be popular and in demand, both nationally and internationally. The lectures are part of an extensive 3- to 5-day training course which is offered to MSB Partnership members, SCD staff, students, and other external users (e.g. specialist training in universities), both nationally (e.g. Edinburgh BG, RBG Kew) and internationally (see below). The commitment to present courses to MSc students at INPA (National Institute of Amazonian Research, Manaus, Brazil) biannually has just been formalised by an MoU between RBG Kew and INPA.

International training courses (An Introduction to the Morphology of Fruits and Seeds) held since 2004:

20-22 Sep 2011 Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis (section NHN), Leiden University
27 Sep – 01 Oct 2010 INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) in Manaus, Brazil
21-25 Sep 2009 INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) in Manaus, Brazil
28-30 May 2007 Christchurch, New Zealand (host: Lincoln University, Bioprotection & Ecology Division)
28-30 Mar 2006 Melbourne, Australia (host: Department of Sustain¬ability and Environment, Victoria)
22-24 Mar 2006 Brisbane, Australia (hosts: Greening Australia & Uni-versity of Queensland)
14-16 Mar 2006 Sydney, Australia (host: Mount Annan Botanic Garden)
01-03 Mar 2004 Brisbane, Australia (host: University of Queensland)
25-27 Feb 2004 Perth, Australia (host: Kings Park & Botanic Garden)

Key Publications since 2006:
1) STUPPY, W & KESSELER, R & HARLEY, M 2009: The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants. Papadakis Publisher, London [translated into German, French, Chinese, and currently translated into Japanese].
3) STUPPY, W & KESSELER, R 2008: Fruit - Edible, Inedible, Incredible. Papadakis Publisher, London in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew [translated into German, currently translated into Japanese]; 2nd edition published in 2011
3) KESSELER, R & STUPPY, W 2006: Seeds - Time Capsules of Life. Papadakis Publisher, London in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew [translated into German and and currently translated into Japanese]; 2nd edition published in 2009

Conferences and workshops:
• 06 May 2010: Presentation at Shanghai Normal University (audience: staff and students of SHNU) & at Shanghai Botanic Garden, China (audience: UK Pavilion staff, local NGOs); presentation title: The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai
• 16 Dec 2009: Participation in Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2009, The 300 Million Year War presented by Prof. Sue Hartley; broadcast on More4 on 25 Dec 2009
• 23 Sep 2008: Public evening talk at the Royal Institution, London; title Sowing the Seed []

International policies supported:
Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC):
This project contributes towards the goals of the GSPC. It fulfils objectives d) and e):
d) Promoting education and awareness about plant diversity:
Articulate and emphasize the importance of plant diversity, the goods and services that it provides, and the need for its conservation and sustainable use, in order to mobilize necessary popular and political support for its conservation and sustainable use;
(e) Building capacity for the conservation of plant diversity:
(i) Enhance the human resources, physical and technological infrastructure necessary, and necessary financial support for plant conservation;
(ii) Link and integrate actors to maximize action and potential synergies in support of plant conservation

This project contributes directly towards targets xiv and xv of the GSPC:
(d) Promoting education and awareness about plant diversity:
Target xiv: The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation
incorporated into communication, educational and public -awareness

(e) Building capacity for the conservation of plant diversity:
Target xv: The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities in
plant conservation increased, according to national needs, to achieve the
targets of this Strategy;

Author: Wolfgang Stuppy
Date : 28/09/2011

Project partners and collaborators


• Prof. Rob Kesseler, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
• Papadakis Publisher, Newbury, UK


• Dr. Isolde Kossmann-Ferraz of INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia = National Institute of Amazonian Research)

Project funders


Millennium Seed Bank Partnership

Project team

Project Leader: