Kew's Millennium Seed Bank project – St Helena
Seeds collected from threatened plant species on St Helena are stored at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. They make a valuable contribution to our goal of securing the safe storage of 25% of the world’s plants by 2020. The main priority is those species and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities.
MSB seed collecting in St Helena (Image: RBG Kew)
Plant life in St Helena is under threat
Though much older, St Helena is geologically similar to Ascension Island, and has suffered similar losses to its original vegetation. In particular, the original forest cover has been lost to centuries of goat grazing, with the remaining semi-natural vegetation confined to the central mountain peak. Of the 420 or so wild plant species, only 15% are native to the island. However, a remarkable 45 species are endemic (plants found exclusively in St Helena). Most of these endemics are severely threatened, having been reduced to very small populations. Several species are thought to have become extinct.
Saving seeds for the future in St Helena
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) holds 27 threatened plant species found in St Helena, many of these collected with the help of the St Helena Government's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department and the St Helena National Trust. These include several of the most rare endemics. In early 2009 twelve more were stored as a result of work with the Agriculture & Natural Resources Department of the St Helena Government. These include the false gumwood (Commidendrum spurium), with fewer than ten trees surviving in the wild, and old father live forever (Pelargonium cotyledonis), a bizarre plant clinging to bare rocks with its tortuous succulent rootstock. Scientists at Kew’s MSB will periodically test the quality of seeds to ensure that they can be successfully germinated. By safely storing seeds we can safeguard endangered plant species for future generations.
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Our St Helena team
Our contacts in St Helena
- Agriculture & Natural Resources Department of the St Helena Government