Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership – Ascension Island
By collecting seeds from plants on Ascension Island and preserving them at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, we are providing an insurance against their loss in the wild. Seeds can be grown into plants and re-introduced in their native habitats.
Staff and volunteers on expedition on Ascension Island (Image: Thomas Heller, RBG Kew)
Plant life is under threat on Ascension Island
Ascension Island has suffered more than most from human introductions, and as a result has lost many of its endemic species (plants found exclusively on the island). In the 19th century, on the advice of eminent botanist Joseph Hooker, seed from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was sent out to ‘green’ the island to increase rainfall and also control erosion. Subsequent introductions have continued to modify the landscape. It has also lost most of its nesting seabird colonies. The island was once home to four endemic flowering plant species, but two of these are now considered extinct.
Environment and climate
Ascension Island is situated in isolation just south of the equator in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The majority of the island’s natural surface is of exposed volcanic deposits with very little vegetation of any kind. Only the central peak, Green Mountain, supports significant plant communities, and here the majority of species are alien.
Saving seeds for the future on Ascension Island
Efforts to propagate the two remaining endemic species, Ascension spurge (Euphorbia organioides) and a grass, Sporobolus caespitosus, as well as endemic ferns, are underway by our partners in Ascension. As a further conservation measure, collections of these two species are stored at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. These seeds can last for decades if not centuries by being stored at a temperature of -20°C. We will have the option in the future to grow these seeds into plants and put them back in areas where they are most needed.