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.