Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership – Republic of South Africa
Plant species around the world are becoming extinct more than ever before and at an increasing rate. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership in South Africa is working to safeguard valuable plant species that are at risk. The seeds being collected will provide an insurance against losing precious species in the wild.
Collecting seeds in the Republic of South Africa (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)
Our achievements in Republic of South Africa
- some plant species previously thought to be extinct have been found through the MSBP’s seed collecting trips
- field data obtained during collecting trips is being used for vital Red Listing assessments in the Cape Flora
- sharing our knowledge of plant conservation with local communities involved with medicinal plant production in Mpumalanga Province
Plant life under threat in the Republic of South Africa
The large and unique flora of the Republic of South Africa needs no introduction. There are more than 20,000 species, thousands of which can only be found in South Africa.
Nearly 400 species are classified as vulnerable, or (critically) endangered on the national Red Data List. The threats to this unique flora are as in so many places: urbanisation, agriculture, pressure on natural resources, and drought.
These pressures are, however, very different in different parts of the country. The unique 'fynbos' flora in the Western Cape province is, in addition, very sensitive to the effects of climate change: the many species from this relatively small area have nowhere else to go.
Environment and climate
The Republic of South Africa is an extraordinarily diverse country in terms of general morphology (plains, hills, high mountains, escarpments, table-lands, etc.), vegetation types (forest, thickets, savanna, grasslands, the famous open 'karoo' and 'fynbos' vegetations), and rainfall (from less than 350mm per year in large parts of the western and central parts to over 1100 mm in the eastern parts), to name but a few criteria.
This striking variation explains the diversity of the flora within a total richness or no less than 20,000 species. The uniqueness is further illustrated by the 66% of the species being endemic to the country (growing only in South Africa), while presently over 12% is classified as 'threatened'.
Saving plant life in the Republic of South Africa
Kew is working in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and aims to collect around 250 species new to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex each year.
Some great achievements have been made since seed collecting and banking began in South Africa in 1996. A collection of more than 2,500 species has been conserved and documented of which more than 80% are rare, threatened or of particular use to man; of these 2,500 over 1,600 are endemics.
Systems for targeting, collecting, processing and banking seed have been developed which will be used for all future conservation work. It has also been possible to prioritise species for ex situ conservation.
Scientists from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank are continuing to share their expertise to help conservation efforts in South Africa.
Work is focusing on delivering a fully integrated ex situ conservation strategy, which aims to produce a ‘joined up’ approach to ex situ conservation. This includes the conservation of species in seed lots, training other, relevant organisations in this field, propagation of selected species and their re-introduction in the wild.
Recent examples of this involved endangered species such as Roridula dentata and Gladiolus aureus, and involvement with a re-introduction programme of species of the so-called 'sand-fynbos' near Cape Town.
Currently seeds are being stored at both the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre (NPGRC) of the Ministry of Agriculture in Roodeplaat near Pretoria and at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place. The partnership is also working on the propagation of seeds, for example, to increase numbers of seeds from critically endangered species.
By maintaining and developing links and working relationships with other conservation practitioners, a network of in situ and ex situ conservation projects in South Africa is emerging to which Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership provides services.
These will include practical help in areas such as botanical survey, seed collecting, processing and germination. It will also include training in these methodologies. In return, the MSBP will receive data and seed collections.
In parallel the University of KwaZulu Natal is engaged with the MSB in a project to study the conservation of seeds of desiccation-sensitive species by means of cryo-preservation.
Discover more about our work in Africa...
Our team in the Republic of South Africa
- Michiel van Slageren, MSBP International Co-ordinator
- Erich van Wyk, Project manager
- Livhuwani Nkuna, team leader Pretoria
- Carly Cowell, team leader Cape Town
Our partners in the Republic of South Africa
Plant stories from the Republic of South Africa
- Canthium vanwykii
- Cylindrophyllum hallii
- Dioscorea sp.
- Erica greyi
- Erica margaritacea
- Erica verticillata
- Gladiolus aureus
- Ixia mostertii
- Leucadendron levisanus
- Lobelia valida
- Mimetes hirtus
- Polhillia obsoleta
- Protea cryophila
- Protea odorata
- Roridula dentata
- Widdringtonia schwarzii
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