Plants are fascinating. Even though they surround us and feed us, they often go unseen and unnoticed each day. They even hold the record for the largest and oldest organisms on earth – the largest being a clone of aspen trees and the oldest being a bristle cone pine in Nevada, estimated to be almost 5000 years old.
One of the most fascinating aspects of plants is their seeds. These propagules contain the blueprints to create a new plant and can be carried across many kilometres by wind, or by animals through their fur or gut. The hooks on the seed of burdock clinging to his dog so enthralled the Swiss engineer George de Mestral, that he took inspiration and invented Velcro.
One of the oldest seeds to germinate is from a date palm. It was discovered during an archaeological excavation near the Dead Sea in 1963 and was dated to be almost 2000 years old.
Seed is generally short-lived, but on occasion it can last in the wild for many years and emerge from dormancy after disruption of the soil. One of the oldest seeds to germinate is from a date palm. It was discovered during an archaeological excavation near the Dead Sea in 1963 and was dated to be almost 2000 years old. The climate of this region is exceptionally dry and this is probably why the seed remained viable. To maintain viable seed for years, conditions need to be created to mimic the parched landscape of the Dead Sea and this can be a challenge in Ireland’s damp climate.
Seed banks are integral to best practice for plant conservation in botanic gardens. They are medium to long-term stores of genetic material with a known origin and tested viability. Probably the most well-known seed bank is the Global Seed Vault in the arctic circle. It is an international collaboration and stores crop varieties from across the world, including Irish varieties of oat and barley. National seed banks are equally important and can feed into projects like the global vault. As part of the 2019 National Biodiversity Conference: New Horizons for Nature Conference Charter, ‘Our Seeds for Nature’, the OPW committed to develop a National Seed Bank for conserving Irish flora in the National Botanic Gardens. We are currently setting up this seed bank to hold our native seeds into the future. We will clean, sort and dry the seed before data-basing it and putting it in low humidity freezers to maintain its viability for years to come. The National Seed Bank is a long term project helping to conserve our native plant biodiversity.
National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9