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Millennium Seed Bank parterres

Outside the entrance to the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building are eight raised beds planted to represent different threatened habitats.

Photo of Wakehurst chalk cliff parterre

Did you know?

  • The UK has some 4,000 hectares of shingle around its coasts but this habitat is threatened from coastal developments for housing and tourism, plus the extraction of pebbles for building.
  • Chalk downland can have as many as 30 different species per square metre.
  • The hanging meadow in the Loder Valley Reserve at Wakehurst Place is cut once a year using traditional methods. Over the past century, the area of meadow managed using traditional methods in the UK has dropped by 97%.

The habitats

Four of these threatened habitats exist between the south coast and Wakehurst Place:

  • shingle beach
  • chalk cliff
  • chalk downland
  • meadow.

 The remaining four represent habitats which occur in other parts of the UK:

  • marsh and fenland
  • hills and mountains
  • heathland
  • cornfield

The parterres contain a selection of the 1,400 native seed-bearing plants of the UK. Almost all of these now have seeds stored in the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB).

Things to look out for

Visitors can use the parterres to examine a range of mini-habitats and learn about the plant collections that define them.

Plants that inhabit shingle beaches, for example, live a precarious existence amid shifting ridges of pebbles regularly inundated with salt water. They tend to be annuals such as the sea kale (Crambe maritima) and sea pea (Lathyrus japonicus).

Plants that live in wet meadows, such as the water mint (Mentha aquatica), can tolerate complete immersion. 

In the raised bed representing a mountain top, you can see mountain avens (Dryas octopetala), which is a relic from the ice ages and usually only grows in the north and west of the country. A member of the rose family, it hugs the ground and has small creamy white flowers with yellow centres. Plants on display in the global drylands parterre include the viciously spiked cactus Echinocereus engelmannii from California.

Just inside the entrance to the MSB is another raised bed containing a selection of plants from arid locations around the world. These represent the MSB’s work collecting and banking seeds from the world’s drylands.