Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew




Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, have been growing and propagating orchids from around the world since its creation over 250 years ago. In particular the Millennium Seed Bank is in a unique position to access, study their storage and germination characteristics and bank seeds collected from diverse habitats around the world. Work by staff at Kew has also helped identify some of the important issues surrounding the conservation of orchids, and has led to the decision to initiate a global project to collect and store seed in countries with high biodiversity and potentially endangered populations. The creation of OSSSU is the culmination of efforts going back many years by Hugh Pritchard and Phil Seaton to raise the profile of the need for effective storage of orchid seed for conservation and sustainable use.

The MSB (www.kew.org/msbp) has facilities for studying many aspects of seed biology built upon the work of a broad range of scientists based at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, UK. By 2009 seeds from some 10% of the worlds flowering plants had been stored, and this is set to rise to 25% by 2020. Through international collaborations for both academic and collection purposes, we receive numerous visitors from other research institutions and seed banks, and train undergraduate, masters and PhD students.

Although many species of orchid are reported to produce orthodox seeds amenable to conventional ISTA protocols, there is confusion over the storage characteristics of many species, while the waste majority remain untested. With access to a range of storage facilities from ambient to -196°C, and reliable means of affecting moisture content, we are investigating the interactive effect of these parameters upon short and long-term storage performance. Of particular interest is the development of rapid means to assess the viability of seeds prior to and following storage using both vital stains, such as triphenyl tetrazolium and fluorescein diacetate, and identifying key media components necessary during asymbiotic germination.

Photo left to right; Phil Seaton, Tim Marks and Hugh Pritchard

Phil Seaton Tim Marks and Hugh Pritchard