All seed collections need to be cleaned before storage to remove dust, debris and unnecessary plant parts.
Seeds are carefully cleaned before storage (Image: RBG Kew)
Seeds are dispersed from their parent plants in a wide variety of ways and some germinate years later and great distances away. Some seeds are carried into the air in winged fruits or are blown great distances at the end of a feathery parachute. Many seeds may set out on their journey within a brightly-coloured wet fruit that is eaten by birds. Other seeds develop inside hooked fruits that are whisked from the maternal plants and onto the fur of passing mammals.
This diversity of appendages and covering structures pose a challenge for collectors and seed processing staff and often need to be removed to assist processing and germination or simply to reduce the bulk of the collection for storage. On the other hand some species produce fruits that dehisce when they are ripe and for these it is often possible to collect clean seed in the field, for instance by simply tapping seed capsules into a collecting bag.
Seed cleaning machines
A zig-zag aspirator
After a seed collection has been dried it is cleaned to remove empty and poorly-developed seeds, debris and to reduce bulk for effective packaging and storage. Seed cleaning also reduces the risk of disease. Releasing the seed unharmed from the diversity of fruit types requires great care and expertise. To limit damage, much of the work is done by hand using sieves. However, equipment such as an aspirator is used to winnow the debris from the heavier, filled seeds.
The role of a zig-zag aspirator
A zig-zag aspirator employs a similar technique to the ancient method of winnowing. MSBP staff use the aspirator to remove light material, such as debris and empty seeds from the collection.
The seed material is placed in a hopper at the top of the machine and falls into an airflow, which can be adjusted according to the size and weight of the seeds. Healthy seeds with full contents will be sorted into the ‘heavy fraction’. The ‘light fraction’ is checked for the presence of good seed before it is discarded.
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