Picture shows glass jars lying on their side on a shelf. Each jar contains seeds. (Image: Wolfgang Stuppy)

What is in the Bank?

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) stores ‘back up’ collections of seeds collected and saved by our partner seed banks around the world.

We also store the seeds collected by our UK seed projects:

  • UK Seed Collecting Programme
  • UK Native Seed Hub
  • UK National Tree Seed Project

 

Where have the seeds come from?

The UK leads the world in having collected and conserved its botanical heritage. The MSB holds seeds from nearly all of the UK’s native plant species. All of these seeds are owned by Kew. Providing we have enough seeds, we can supply small samples of all except the very rarest and most threatened species to researchers and botanic gardens.

We also have seeds from many different countries around the world. These have been collected by our network of partners in 80 countries. Duplicate samples are sent to Kew for safe keeping. We dry and clean the seeds and store them in sealed glass containers at -20°C in the Millennium Seed Bank cold rooms. The vault at the Millennium Seed Bank holds more living plant diversity per square metre than anywhere on earth - arguably the world’s hottest plant biodiversity hotspot. Many of the seed collections are still owned by the country of origin but Kew may have permission to supply small quantities of seed for research purposes. If we don’t have permission to supply the seeds we provide contact details of partners who can.

What are the seeds used for?

Seeds supplied by the MSB are used for various research purposes.

UK research organisation CABI was investigating potential biological control agents for the invasive plant Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). Staff had identified a potential insect agent but needed to test its host specificity. The MSB provided seed from 48 species for this purpose and the resulting research concluded that the insect was indeed specific to the Japanese knotweed. Clearance of Japanese knotweed costs the UK alone £166 million per annum which gives an indication of the financial value of the MSB collections for research.

The MSB stores seeds of crop wild relatives. These have been collected by the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project and will be supplied to researchers for use in breeding crops better adapted to deal with a changing climate. Seeds of these, and other Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), are available for distribution using a standard material transfer agreement from GENESYS.

Seeds from the MSB are also used to support reintroduction and restoration. The UK Native Seed Hub provides high quality UK native plant material for conservation and habitat restoration use.