Banking on a bright future

Gregory Andrews with volunteers in the seed bank

Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews visited the National Seed Bank at the Australian National Botanic Gardens earlier this year, to discover more about the work we’re doing to protect endangered plant species.

We took Gregory through the life of a seed, from its collection out in the field to being stored at the seed bank, including being catalogued, cleaned, dried and frozen.

There are about 6,000 samples of 3,500 taxa stored in the seed bank, including 163 endangered species (nationally listed under the EPBC Act). Stored correctly, the seeds can remain viable for hundreds, potentially thousands, of years.

The Commissioner also took time to check out our popular new Asteraceae Garden. The daisies looked beautiful, and it was a perfect way to see how the expert knowledge of our horticulturalists and researchers allows seeds from the seed bank to be used. Being able to grow such a diversity of native plants, each with their own particular requirements, allows us to conserve living specimens in the Gardens, or to work with partners and reintroduce endangered plants back into the wild.

The daisy garden features a number of threatened species as well as species grown from collections stored at the seed bank

Over the past few years the seed collection has been growing by 3-400 accessions per year. We’ve also been helping with seed collection in national parks like Kakadu National Park. We advise staff on what to collect, how to handle seed for seed-banking, and how to prepare specimens to go in to the herbarium collection at the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR) and long-term storage at the seed bank. A record of each species collected is also stored at CANBR with details of where it was collected, for other research purposes.

Park ranger Jenny Hunter and traditional owners Stephan Anderson and Jake Baird collecting Hibiscus brennanii in Kakadu National Park

It’s fantastic to have the Threatened Species Commissioner’s support and Australian Government investment in improving the genetic diversity of our collections of plants and seeds. After all, without plants there would be no animals, and no ‘us’!

Lydia, Australian National Botanic Gardens