Na­tive seeds are in the bank


New Zealand’s unique plant bio­di­ver­sity is un­der threat. A pro­ject to col­lect, study and con­serve seeds of New Zealand’s flora for the fu­ture is be­ing led by Massey Univer­sity.

Ev­ery seed is a po­ten­tial plant. One way to safe­guard New Zealand’s in­dige­nous plant bio­di­ver­sity is to store seed at mi­nus 20 de­grees Cel­sius in a seed bank. This seed can be used to rein­tro­duce plants into ar­eas where they have been lost.

The univer­sity is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, AgRe­search, Land­care Re­search, the New Zealand Plant Con­ser­va­tion Net­work and the Royal Botanic Gar­dens, Kew, in the United King­dom.

Based at Wake­hurst Place in West Sus­sex, a part of Kew Gar­dens, the pro­ject is part of the Mil­len­nium Seed Bank Part­ner­ship – the largest ex situ (con­serv­ing liv­ing or­gan­isms out­side their nat­u­ral habi­tat) pro­gramme in the world with a net­work that cov­ers 80 coun­tries.

The New Zealand pro­ject has been train­ing col­lec­tors through­out the coun­try to col­lect and send seed of New Zealand’s flora to Palmer­ston North. So far, nearly one hun­dred col­lec­tors have been trained. Once the seed ar­rives, a ded­i­cated group of vol­un­teers ex­tract, clean and dry the seed in prepa­ra­tion for bank­ing.

Be­fore bank­ing, a small por­tion of the seed is X-rayed to make sure it is free of lar­vae and that it is in good phys­i­cal shape, be­fore a por­tion is ger­mi­nated to make sure the seed is vi­able.

Not all seed is able to be dried for bank­ing. Ko­hekohe seed dies if dried be­low 30 or 40 per cent mois­ture. Part of the pro­ject is to try to de­ter­mine which seed can be dried for bank­ing and how to store seed that can­not be dried.

Since the pro­ject be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2013, more than 90 species have been col­lected and banked. The pro­ject is al­ways look­ing for vol­un­teers to help with seed col­lect­ing and pro­cess­ing.

Those who would like to con- trib­ute can con­tact seed bank co­or­di­na­tor Jes­sica Sch­nell at Massey Univer­sity.

For gen­eral pro­ject in­for­ma­tion, con­tact Massey pro­ject leader Craig McGill.

Funded though the Massey Univer­sity Strate­gic In­no­va­tion Fund and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, the Ge­orge Ma­son Char­i­ta­ble Trust has pro­vided fund­ing for the pur­chase of equip­ment.

Ev­ery seed is a po­ten­tial plant. One way to safe­guard New Zealand’s in­dige­nous plant bio­di­ver­sity is to store seed at -20°C in a seed bank.


Vanessa Ang­ster from AgRe­search at Bar­ing Head, Welling­ton, ear­lier this year col­lect­ing Te­trag­o­nia im­plex­i­coma fruit for the seed bank pro­ject.

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