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Samara: the international newsletter of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership

E-newsletter

Welcome to the Samara e-newsletter. The e-newsletter is published three times a year in March, June and September, starting September 2021. It aims to share up-to-date news and stories from across the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) as well as share information of relevance to the partnership.

The e-newsletter sits alongside the annual print version of Samara, published in December. More information and past issues of the print edition can be found on the dedicated Samara print edition webpage.

If you have any feedback or would like to get in touch with the Samara team, please email samara@kew.org .

Issue 2: March 2022

This issue we hear about field, lab and training activities from Mozambique, Australia and Indonesia. We interview Victoria Wilman, Seed Conservation Programme Manager at SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) and this month's species profile comes from Indonesia - the Begonias native to the Mount Slamet region. We also check back in with the Seeds of Hope featured in the news section of the December issue of Samara.

A germinated seedling of I. dunensis, the seed standing above the sand on a cream hypocotyl and stem and cotyledons emerging from the top of the seed
Icuria dunensis seedling, Mozambique. Photo: Cacilda João Chirinzane Manhiça.
Flowering spike of Calochilus paludosus with two buds and one green and red flower showing the characteristic red hairs
Calochilus paludosus, Australia. Photo: Dan Duval.
Two flowers each with six white petals with a purple streak at the centre of the flower
Aristea spiralis, South Africa. Photo: Victoria Wilman.
Two female flowers each with three white tepals, lobed yellow stigmas and a light pink, 3-winged ovary
Begonia muricata, Indonesia. Photo: M Efendi.

Nationally endemic plants are very important in conservation planning as their survival depends on only one country. Icuria dunensis (Fabaceae) is not only an endemic species to Mozambique, but also one of Mozambique’s five endemic genera (Darbyshire et. al., 2019a). It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species (Darbyshire et. al., 2019b) and its distribution is limited to a stretch of about 200 km along the Mozambican coast between Nacala (Nampula province) and Moebase (Zambezia province).

Icuria trees can grow to 40 m tall. They are dominant in patches of dry coastal forest, sometimes forming pure stands (Burrows et. al., 2018). The fruits are velvety woody pods about 10 cm long, with only 1-3 large seeds inside.

Importance of the tree for communities

Icuria trees are valued by local communities. For example, in the Mulimone Icuria forest in Nampula province, trees are debarked for canoe making (Fig. 1) and the wood is used for construction and firewood. However, trees are also killed by ring-barking a section of the trunk to clear the land for agriculture (Fig. 1). In addition, clearance of vegetation during the mineral sand mining occurring in this region, threatens the remaining patches of these Icuria forests.

A branched tree trunk with a long section lighter in colour where the bark has been removed The base of a tree trunk, red in colour with streaks of red sap running down it. There is a wide indentation where a strip of bark has been removed around the trunk
Figure 1: Local communities debark long sections of Icuria trunk to make canoes, killing large branches (left) and ring-bark a narrow strip of the trunk to kill the tree during land clearance for agriculture. The Icuria tree releases a red sap (right). Photos from Mulimone Icuria forest in Nampula Province. (Photos: Cacilda João Chirinzane Manhiça).
Orthodox or Recalcitrant Icuria dunensis seeds?

In its habitat we noticed many Icuria trees completely without, or with very low numbers of, mature fruits. In order to guarantee enough quality seeds of Icuria for restoration purposes there is an urgent need for ex situ conservation by seed banking. Very little is known about the seeds of this species. They are large and fleshy with a thin seed coat, which suggests they may be recalcitrant.

Preliminary seed tests were conducted using seeds collected by Kenmare in Nampula Province, Larde district, in January 2019. The tests were carried out at the IIAM-CIF laboratory (Fig. 2). To determine the seed moisture content, fresh seeds were cut into small pieces using secateurs and divided into two samples of 10 grams. The samples were dried in the oven at 130°C for an hour. The fresh seed weight was about 87 seeds/kg, with a moisture content of 34.5% (IIAM-CIF, 2020).

A pile of round disc like seeds on a laboratory table, Zélia, Milton and Horácia are stood around the table holding secateurs
Figure 2: Preparing I. dunensis seeds for laboratory tests: IIAM staff from left to right: Zélia Malate, Milton Zavale and Horácia Boene. (Photo: Cacilda João Chirinzane Manhiça).
Germination room

124 seeds of I. dunensis were sown in sterilised sand in the germination room, with a temperature between 25-30°C, 24 hours photoperiod and air relative humidity between 60-80%. The seeds started germinating between day 3 and day 21. The germination was epigeal, with the cotyledons forcing above the surface of the germination medium as the seedlings grew (Fig. 3).

The 91% germination result was very encouraging and exceeded our expectations. However, this was just the start of our Icuria seed conservation research. Further tests are required to check if the seeds are indeed sensitive to desiccation, and to determine how germination responds to drying (Gold and Hay 2014).

Round seeds protruding a couple of centimeters above a tray of sand A germinated seedling of I. dunensis, the seed standing above the sand on a cream hypocotyl and stem and cotyledons emerging from the top of the seed
Figure 3: Icuria dunensis seeds germinating in sterilized sand, showing epigeal germination. (Photo: Cacilda João Chirinzane Manhiça).
Production of seedlings

The seedlings were pricked out, transplanted into polyethylene pots and placed in the nursery under shade. Five months later, the seedling survival rate was 100% and the seedlings reached 30-40 cm tall (Fig. 4). This is encouraging as it shows that if fresh seeds are available, it may be easy to produce seedlings for restoration and ex situ conservation.

6 rows of Icuria dunensis saplings, each sapling in an individual round planter
Figure 4: Icuria dunensis seedlings, 30-40cm tall in the IIAM-CIF nursery, July 2019. (Photo: Cacilda João Chirinzane Manhiça).
Next steps
  • Test if the seeds are desiccation-sensitive using the seed coat ratio model and seed storage behaviour protocols (Gold and Hay 2014);
  • Send duplicate seeds to the MSB for further seed testing including germination testing after banking;
  • Reinforce/strengthen the in situ conservation and restoration programme for Icuria in partnership with Kenmare and other potential partners.

This work was carried out under the MoU between IIAM-Kenmare to restore Icuria dunensis and implement in situ conservation initiatives. To be able to continue our Icuria seed research we appreciate the support of the Global Tree Seed Bank and Threatened Biodiversity Hotspots programmes that are funding Mozambique’s National Seed Conservation Programme at IIAM.

References
  • Burrows, J.E., Burrows, S.M., Lötter, M.C. & Schmidt, E. (2018) Trees and shrubs Mozambique. Publishing Print Matters (Pty) Ltd, Noordhoek, Cape Town.
  • Darbyshire, I., Timberlake, J., Osborne, J., Rokni, S.; Matimele, H., Langa, C., Datizua, C., de Sousa, C., Alves, T., Massingue, A., Hadj-Hammou, J., Dhanda, S.; Shah, T. & Wursten, B. (2019a) The endemic plants of Mozambique: diversity and conservation status. Phytokeys. 136: 45-96. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.136.39020
  • Darbyshire, I., Massingue, A.O., Osborne, J., De Sousa, C., Matimele, H.A., Alves, M.T., Burrows, J.E., Chelene, I., Datizua, C., Fijamo, V., Langa, C., Massunde, J., Mucaleque, P.A., Rokni, S. & Sitoe, P. (2019b) Icuria dunensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T136532836A136538183. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T136532836A136538183.en (Accessed on 02 February 2022)
  • Gold, K. & Hay, F. (2014) Identifying desiccation-sensitive seeds. Technical Information Sheet 10. Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. PDF: https://brahmsonline.kew.org/Content/Projects/msbp/resources/Training/10-Desiccation-tolerance.pdf
  • IIAM-CIF (2020, Report). Relatório sobre testes de qualidade de sementes de Icuria dunensis fornecida pela Kenmare-REHAB.

The work of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP) is built on collaboration. Our relationship with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has been instrumental to our success in building capacity to deliver seed banking projects over the past 20 years. Following the devastating 2019–20 Australian bushfires, the MSBP reached out once more to help us secure our threatened flora. Thanks to a very generous offer of support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in February 2020, we have been able to undertake an emergency collecting programme in impacted areas during the first season post-fire.

Target species for this programme were selected based on the severity of bushfire impact, their threatened status, and their potential to provide critical ecosystem services that support Australia’s native wildlife. Our partners made 47 collections of 42 taxa and delivered 164 germination trials of 93 taxa, representing flora from every Australian state and territory. On Kangaroo Island, two rare orchids (pictured) were located and banked by the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre. The funding provided for this programme has also enabled us to propagate 10 priority plants in Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia for planting in seed production areas and botanic garden displays.

Yellow orchid flower of Caladenia transitoria subspecies isolata
The shy gremlin orchid (Caladenia transitoria subsp. isolata) was previously only known from a single historic record, but in spring 2020 two small populations were discovered after fire. (Photo: Dan Duval).
Flowering spike of Calochilus paludosus with two buds and one green and red flower showing the characteristic red hairs
A small population of the endangered swamp bearded orchid (Calochilus paludosus) was also located on Kangaroo Island in spring 2020. (Photo: Dan Duval).

To date, ASBP partners have also undertaken rapid flora assessments for 11 bushfire affected flora to ascertain habitat condition, initial fire response, species abundance, pests and disease presence and overall fire impact. To ensure standardised data collection across multiple states, our partners developed a methodology for species monitoring. This programme funded the printing of dedicated field books to capture this information. The assessments have provided seed banks with crucial information about species recovery post-fire. The data will be uploaded to botanic gardens databases and made available to those involved in research, conservation, and bushfire recovery actions to monitor recovery over time and inform future seed collection priorities.

Despite unforeseen project delays due to COVID restrictions, flooding, and impacts of the current La Niña event, the Partnership has adapted to ensure an ongoing commitment to ex situ conservation of Australian flora. This includes adjusting our species target lists to collect other accessible priority species, postponing our activities to the 2021–22 summer season, and establishing seed orchards from previous collections where species cannot be feasibly located.

The work our partners have delivered under this project, and many like it, mean thousands of native species are now secured in seed banks throughout Australia. We hope our efforts and the ongoing interest from beyond our shores will inspire people to learn more about protecting our native plants in our vast and varied continent.

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has received the World Wide Biodiversity Conservation Award at the 16th BBVA Foundation Awards ceremony in Madrid, 30th November 2021. Each year the BBVA Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the BBVA financial services group, hosts an award ceremony recognising those working for Biodiversity Conservation. Three awards are given, one for biodiversity conservation in Spain, one for knowledge dissemination and communication in biodiversity conservation in Spain, and one for worldwide biodiversity conservation.

It is this global category that the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has won “for its extraordinary contribution to the preservation of the world’s plant biodiversity, through the creation of a seed bank holding 2.5 billion samples of plants from 190 countries”. The judges considered the MSBP to be an exemplary initiative which reflects how cooperation without borders can advance nature conservation worldwide and successfully address the central challenge of preserving biodiversity. They were particularly impressed by the MSBP's training capacity, a key element of the partnership which allows best practice, technology and ideas to be shared across the network.

Dr Elinor Breman, lead of the MSBP Initiative at Kew, travelled to Madrid to accept the award, with colleagues Dr Aisyah Faruk who coordinates our work across Europe, and Dr Tiziana Ulian, who works on diversity and livelihoods.

A person standing on a stage making a presentation to an audience
Dr Elinor Breman, Senior Research Leader at the Millennium Seed Bank, addresses the audience at the 16th BBVA Foundation Awards ceremony in Madrid on the 30th November 2021. (Photo: RBG Kew).

The award also provided 250,000 Euros to further the work of the MSBP. In the spirit in which the award was given, this funding is being used to continue our training programme and conserve critically endangered plants, bringing them back from the brink of extinction.

The funding will enable 10 people to undertake Technical Attachments at the Millennium Seed Bank and ~12 people to attend our flagship Seed Conservation Techniques course in 2022. The remaining funds will support a new four-year project to conserve 50 plant species designated as critically endangered (CR) by the global IUCN Red List.

Mind the Gap - What CR species are conserved?

The species to be conserved have been identified through an internal review of MSBP holdings of CR species, which identified CR species missing from collections as well as those whose collections could be improved (increase in the number of seeds from a population or the number of populations conserved). Ten countries will be involved in not only collecting these CR species, but drawing together the known information about them, developing propagation protocols and then feeding information and plants back into in situ conservation efforts.

The award engraved with the text Biodiversity Conservation Awards, BBVA Foundation Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Madrid, November 30 2021
BBVA Foundation Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation. (Photo: RBG Kew).

The transfer of seed conservation knowledge through the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) over the last two decades has been reviewed by Way & Breman (2021). They show how the MSBP’s international training programme has successfully translated research knowledge into practical standards and guidelines. They also illustrate how the MSBP continues to develop decision-support tools such as the Seed Recalcitrance Predictor and the MSBP Data Warehouse and shares best practice in seed conservation through technical publications and partnership newsletters.

For 2022 we are hoping to run our Seed Conservation Techniques training course onsite at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) for the first time since 2018. The proposed dates include a week of online theory from September 26th- 30th, followed by practical hands-on sessions from October 9th - 22nd. Demand is likely to be high, so if you would like further information please contact MSBTraining@kew.org as soon as possible. The deadline for expressions of interest is April 30th.

A group of people wearing lab coats and gloves stood around a sink washing fruits in a sieve
Participants of the Seed Conservation Techniques Course, 2018, cleaning wet fruit in the MSB cleaning lab. (Photo: RBG Kew).
References

In the December edition of Samara, we featured a news story on receiving seeds from the hibaku jumoku (survivor trees) from the Green Legacy Hiroshima Initiative. The trees survived the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, at the end of the Second World War and are now grown around the world as a symbol of peace and hope.

Many of the species we received from the Hiroshima survivor trees need cold stratification treatment and are still in the fridge. Some however, needed no pre-treatments. They were sown straight away and put into our glasshouse at a cosy 22°C.

The Cinnamomum camphora (Camphor Tree) seeds were first to the mark, with all three germinating (the first germinating after 4 weeks). They will soon be potted into airpots and as they grow (and toughen up), acclimatised to cooler conditions. I look forward to the day when these survivors will be planted out in the gardens at Wakehurst!

In the foreground three seedlings growing in a container filled with soil, with other plants in pots in the background
Three seedlings of Cinnamomum camphora from the Green Legacy Hiroshima Initiative, successfully germinated in the nursery at Wakehurst. (Photo: Eliana Van Der Schraft).

Notes on the Begonias of Mt. Slamet, Central Java, Indonesia

Muhammad Efendi, Abidin Ibrahim, Dadang Sunandar, Intani Quarta Lailaty & Vandra Kurniawan (Cibodas Botanic Gardens, Research Center for Plant Conservation and Botanic Gardens, National Research and Innovation Agency)

Begonia is known as an ornamental plant by many plant enthusiasts. It has an interesting shape and colour to the leaves, and also has many varied colours of flowers (Tebitt, 2005). Several species of Begonia have other uses, for example B. comestibilis is used for food (Thomas et al., 2011), B. multangula as a spice, B. muricata (Hartutiningsih et al., 2009; Putri et al., 2019), B. medicinalis (Ardi et al., 2019) and B. baliensis (Hartutiningsih et al., 2018) were reported as potential medicines. These species contain antimicrobial compounds with the potential to be developed as medicinal raw materials.

Mount Slamet is known as habitat of native Begonia’s in Java. A total of five native Begonia have been reported in this area in a previous study (Efendi, 2019). A seed collecting expedition was conducted in the Mount Slamet forest area, Central Java, Indonesia, to increase the number of Begonia seed collections which are stored in the Cibodas Botanic Garden’s Seed Bank. A total of six species of native Begonia were found and collected within the South Slope area of Mount Slamet, namely B. multangula, B. longifolia, B. areolata, B. atricha, B. isoptera and B. muricata. A new location of Begonia isoptera was added to its range distribution from this expedition. Thus, as many as 40% of Java's native species of Begonias are now stored in Cibodas Botanic Garden’s Seed Bank and duplicated at the Seed Bank of the Center for Plant Conservation and Botanic Gardens. Unfortunately, there is a decreasing trend of the B. atricha population in Mt. Slamet caused by over exploitation for ornamental plants.

Two leaves with lobed margins and pointed lobe tips
Begonia multangula. (Photo: M. Efendi).
Underside of stem showing the alternate leaf arrangement and asymmetrical leaf base, white buds are hanging from the leaf axils
Begonia longifolia. (Photo: M. Efendi).
Two female flowers each with three white tepals, lobed yellow stigmas and a light pink, 3-winged ovary
Begonia muricata. (Photo: M. Efendi).

Orange-red, pubescent flower buds at the stem apex
Begonia areolata. (Photo: M. Efendi).
Two dark green asymmetrical leaves with serrate margins
Begonia atricha. (Photo: M. Efendi).
A stem with leaves in an alternate arrangement, a pale green developing fruit and inflorescences of pinky cream male flowers coming from the leaf axils
Begonia isoptera. (Photo: M. Efendi).
References
  • Ardi, W.H., Zubair, M.S., Ramadanil, P. & Thomas, D.C. (2019) Begonia medicinalis (Begoniaceae), a new species from Sulawesi Indonesia. Phytotaxa. 423(1): 41-45. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11646/phytotaxa.423.1.5
  • Efendi, M. (2019) Begonia alam Kebun Raya Baturaden. Prosiding Seminar Nasional Masyarakat Biodiversitas Indonesia. 5(1): 13-17. Available at: https://smujo.id/psnmbi/article/view/3216
  • Siregar, H-M., Purwantoro, R.S., Praptiwi, P. & Agusta, A. (2018) Antibacterial potency of simple fractions of ethyl acetate extract of Begonia baliensis. Nusantara Bioscience. 10: 159-163. Available at: https://smujo.id/nb/article/view/2726
  • Putri, N.H.S., Nurdiwiyati, D., Lestari, S., et al. (2019) Aktivitas antibakteri ekstrak tangkai dan daun Begonia multangula Blume. terhadap Porphyromonas gingivalis. Jurnal Biologi Universitas Andalas. 7(1): 51-58.
  • Thomas, D.C., Ardi, W.H. & Hughes, M. (2011) Nine new species of Begonia (Begoniaceae) from South and West Sulawesi, Indonesia. Edinburgh Journal of Botany. 68(2): 225–255. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0960428611000072

Our collaboration with SANBI (The South African National Biodiversity Institute) was one of the first under the global Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP). In over 20 years of working together the MSBP/SANBI team have made more than 6,500 collections, covering more than 4,350 species.

We spoke to Victoria Wilman (Seed Conservation Programme Manager) to learn more about her team's incredible contribution and their hopes and plans.

Photo montage of the SANBI MSBP team
The SANBI MSBP team, left to right: Victoria Wilman, Fergy Nkadimeng, Sibahle Gumede, Ntsakisi Masia, Naomi Mdayi, Thembeka Malwane and Jacqui James. (Photo: MSBP SANBI).

What influenced you to work in seed conservation?

I used to spend hours hiking in the mountains and visiting South Africa’s National Parks. I loved plants and collected seeds wherever I could. When my grandmother passed away, she left me a small legacy, just enough to kick start my first year of studies. I wanted to do nature conservation, but knowing about the many rare and endangered plants, I decided to study horticulture, to be able to grow these plants to restore them back into the wild. After working in the Eastern Cape and completing my honours degree in Botany a few years later, I applied for a seed collecting position in Cape Town and started at SANBI in 2012. I have loved every minute of it!

How has the global pandemic influenced your work and personal life?

The pandemic stopped all of our fieldwork, and our teams collecting seeds around the country were grounded although some colleagues who live in remote areas continued to collect around their home villages. I have an amazing team, and despite all the Covid challenges, they continued to work extremely hard and remained dedicated to the MSBP project, with the result that we are not far behind our collecting targets.

How do you think SANBI has developed its commitment to Seed Conservation over the past 20 years?

SANBI's commitment to seed conservation is very strong, the seed room at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (NBG) has changed from a commercial operation to a Seed Conservation Unit servicing the whole of SANBI.

A Seed Conservation Programme is being developed which includes infrastructure for South Africa’s first wild plant seed bank at Kirstenbosch NBG, including dry rooms, a -20°C; freezer, germination and seed processing labs, all due to be completed in early 2023. This exciting project brings together a lifetime’s ambition for me.

The seed conservation programme is well integrated into SANBI’s other directives and many of SANBI’s permanent staff have come through the MSBP programme. Our seed collectors are stationed at four of SANBI’s Botanical Gardens and work together with horticulturists and curators. We work closely with the Threatened Species Programme and Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) who manage volunteers monitoring threatened species, and we also train them in seed collecting for the project.

A map of South Africa highlighting the collecting areas covered by each of the MSBP teams, and their respective locations
Map showing the collecting areas of the MSBP teams. Detailed alternative text for this map is available at the bottom of the article. (Photo: Victoria Wilman).

You have a strong Seed Conservation team at SANBI. Can you tell us a bit about the current team of researchers, their strengths and aspirations?

The team is comprised of myself, four seed collectors, one seed processing coordinator with support staff and an intern. We are finalizing two new projects at Kirstenbosch and Karoo Desert NBG which will add 3 more to the team.

Seed Collectors:

  • Naomi Mdayi – Kirstenbosch NBG (Western Cape)
  • Sibahle Gumede – Kwelera NBG (Eastern Cape)
  • Fergy Nkadimeng – Pretoria NBG (Gauteng, Freestate, North West)
  • Ntsakisi Masia – Thohoyandou NBG (Limpopo, Mpumulanga)
  • Jacqui James – Intern Kirstenbosch
  • New Project - Karoo Desert NBG (Northern Cape), succulent poaching
  • New Project – Kirstenbosch NBG, Restoration Unit, succulent poaching

Seed Processing at Kirstenbosch NBG:

  • Thembeka Malwane – seed processing coordinator
  • Georgina Wilkinson – seed cleaning and packaging shipments
  • Deon Smith – Administration (requests for material and other Gardens work)
  • Siyabonga Magladla – seed cleaning
  • Patrick Kettledas – seed cleaning and collecting

Due to the vast and varied terrain of South Africa the scope of our work is immense. The seed collectors (all female) spend extended periods away and are always accompanied in the field for their security. They are dedicated and knowledgeable. Amongst their many talents they also train students and volunteers, as well as coordinate the field trips.

Sibahle Gumede, from Kwelera NBG in the Eastern Cape shared her thoughts:

My aspirations are to see a South Africa that no longer has plants which are threatened, to have independent volunteers to carry out the MSBP vision, and universities, landowners and environmental stakeholders taking ownership for seed conservation. And lastly to see satellite seed banks for each province, to be able to curate their endemic seeds.

Your team engages with volunteers across South Africa, what are the key factors that make these partnerships work and are there any challenges?

Most of our stakeholders, partners, and volunteers understand and have experience of the effects of not preserving indigenous species. Our partnership with them is symbiotic and mutual and we are extremely grateful for all the help we receive from volunteers who help find target species and even collect seeds. We occasionally have difficulties getting hold of landowners for site access and they may prohibit us from collecting, and we can sometimes be viewed as a threat that exploits vegetation to give away seeds to another country, but we work hard at spreading the conservation message and more often than not receive cooperation and enthusiastic assistance.

You alone have been involved with 500 of the collections made by the MSBP/SANBI team. Do you have any collection highlights?

One of my favourite experiences is collecting from Silvermine Nature Reserve after a huge fire in 2015, which many viewed as devastating. We knew it was just the beginning of another cycle in nature and we discovered many species which were previously not present and some that come up en masse after a fire, like the beautiful Aristea spiralis, Disa racemosa and Erica amoena.

Two flowers each with six white petals with a purple streak at the centre of the flower
Aristea spiralis resprouting after the fire at Silvermine Nature Reserve. (Photo: Victoria Wilman).
Small woody shrub with whorls of green leaves and yellow daisy like flowers growing against a rocky background
Euryops indecorus. (Photo: Nick Helm).
Lots of green shoots and purple flowers emerging amongst burnt branches and bare ground
Life returning to the burned landscape at Silvermine Nature Reserve after the autumn rains. (Photo: Victoria Wilman).

Another great memory was collecting Euryops indecorus, a Critically Rare species known from only one site on cliff faces above Rooiels in the Western Cape. It took a whole day to get to and climb to the top of the mountain where this plant occurs and what a joyful and exciting feeling to find the species in flower and in seed, and to know that it is now secured in the seedbank.

We know that SANBI is pivotal in driving in situ species conservation and recovery, are there any key initiatives for which your seed collections will be used?

In partnership with MSBP, CREW, Kirstenbosch NBG and Stellenbosch Botanical Garden we are working on the Marasmodes undulata project. This species is classified as Critically Endangered and only occurs at a single locality. When last monitored, only three plants were present. The site has since burned, leaving no plants left in the wild. Seeds originally collected in 2005 were taken out of the seedbank and germinated at Kirstenbosch NBG and the Stellenbosch University BG. These plants are the basis for restoring this species, and these, and additional cuttings taken from them, will be planted into the wild this Autumn. It shows how important having ex situ collections can be.

How do you see the role SANBI plays in Southern Africa?

SANBI plays a critical role in the conservation arena, it leads and coordinates conservation research, and monitors and reports on the state of biodiversity in South Africa while also managing 10 Botanical Gardens that create awareness and showcase South Africa’s plants and provide education programs for learners. SANBI pilots wild plant seed conservation through our MSBP and seed conservation programme and highlights its importance through training programmes to many other organisations.

What do you see as the future challenges you are facing in your work?

Succulent poaching is a major problem, with plants exported for their ornamental value and the safety of my teams in the field is always a concern. Managing the new seed bank and developing a good seed science programme will be a new challenge, but a wonderful and exciting one.

You recently attended the remote Seed Conservation Techniques (SCT) course. How did you find it, and do you have any plans to further develop your current in-country training programme for staff and volunteers?

It was a great course; I really enjoyed it and learned so much. It was well organised with many resources. We are embarking on a staff training day every month, covering one aspect of the SCT training, and we will use the resources and videos from the course.


Detailed alternative text for map

A map of the provinces of South Africa showing the location of the different MSBP teams and the National Botanic Gardens (NBG) they’re based at, plus their respective collecting areas. The MSBP team based at Thohoyandou NBG in Limpopo cover collecting areas within the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The MSBP team based at Pretoria NBG in Gauteng province cover collecting areas within the provinces of Gauteng, North West and Free State. The MSBP team based at Kwelera NBG cover collecting areas within the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. There are two MSBP teams within the Western Cape, one at the Karoo Desert NBG and one at Kirstenbosch NBG, these cover collecting areas within the Northern Cape and Western Cape provinces.

How do you perform a cut test on very small seeds, especially when in the field?

There are two elements to handling small seeds. One is to make sure they stay in place and don’t fly away, the other is to use the right tool for cutting.

We suggest the use of adhesive tape, by taking a strip of the tape and creating a loop (with the adhesive side facing outwards to fix the seeds), and then using small scissors to cut the seeds (either on the tape surface or by cutting through the tape with seed in place) (Fig. 1). Experienced collectors may also use their fingernail for cutting. It is always helpful to use a hand lens or microscope when cut testing very small seeds. Very tiny seeds, such as those of orchids, can’t be effectively cut tested.

A loop of adhesive tape over a finger, with several small seeds stuck to the tape. A small pair of scissors are being used to cut the small seeds
Figure 1: Small seeds stuck to the outside of a loop of adhesive tape, small scissors can then be used to cut the tape. (Photo: RBG Kew).

Recent publications from across the MSBP:

  • Diantina, S., McGill, C., Millner, J., Nadarajan, J., Pritchard, H.W., Colville, L. & Clavijo McCormick, A. (2022) Seed viability and fatty acid profiles of five orchid species before and after ageing. Plant Biology. 24: 168-175. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/plb.13345
  • Faruk, A., Papikyan, A. & Nersesyan, A. (2021) Exploring effective conservation of charismatic flora: orchids in Armenia as a case study. Diversity. 13(12): 624. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/d13120624
  • Liu, D., Cai, J., He, H., Yang, S., Chater, C.C.C. & Yu, F. (2022) Anemochore seeds harbour distinct fungal and bacterial abundance, composition, and functional profiles. Journal of Fungi. 8(1):89. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/jof8010089
  • Kallow, S., Garcia Zuluaga, M., Fanega Sleziak, N., Nugraha, B., Mertens, A., Janssens, S.B., Gueco, L., Valle-Descalsota, M.L., Dang Vu, T., Toan Vu, D., Thi Li, L., Vadeloo, F., Dickie, J.B., Verboven, P., Swennen, R. & Panis, B. (2022) Drying banana seeds for ex situ conservation. Conservation Physiology. 10: coab099. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coab099
  • Pence, V.C., Meyer, A., Linsky, J., Gratzfeld, J., Pritchard, H.W., Westwood, M. & Bruns, E.B. (2022) Defining exceptional species - A conceptual framework to expand and advance ex situ conservation of plant diversity beyone conventional seed banking. Biological Conservation. 266: 109440. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109440
  • Pence, V.C., Bruns, E.B., Meyer, A., Pritchard, H.W., Westwood, M., Linsky, J., Gratzfeld, J., Helm-Wallace, S., Liu, U., Rivers, M. & Beech, E. (2022) Gap analysis of exceptional species - Using a global list of exceptional plants to expand strategic ex situ conservation action beyond conventional seed banking. Biological Conservation. 26: 109439. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109439
  • Visscher, A.M., Boatfield, M., Klak, C., Yeo, M., Pearce, T.R., Wilman, V., Mdayi, N., Gumede, S. & Pritchard, H.W. (2022) Physiological seed dormancy of Ruschia imbricata and Ruschia uitenhagensis (Aizoaceae) is broken by dry heat and unaffected by seasonality. South African Journal of Botany. 147: 457-466. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2022.02.007

Important notice regarding the Seed Information Database

A recent assessment of the Seed Information Database (SID) for compliance with UK legislation on website accessibility (Public Sector Bodies [Websites and Mobile Applications] Accessibility Regulations 2018; themselves aligned with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at the AA standard) found the web interface deficient in several respects. Regrettably, due to RBG Kew’s need to prioritise its limited resources, we will be unable to remedy the faults; and the SID web interface will be taken down at the end of this financial year (March 2022).

However, we will continue to update SID's data content internally; and this will continue to be available to external users soon as flat files from RBG Kew's FTP (file transfer portal) site.

Please also note that for many years we have shared much of SID's seed functional trait data via the TRY Plant Trait Database, which facilitates bulk data downloads; and we intend to continue periodic updates of that content.

In the future, as far as possible, we plan to deliver species' seed trait information via Kew's 'Plants of the World Online' portal, which should be convenient for users browsing or searching for data on individual species. Moreover, Kew's current Science Strategy sets out (pg. 27) an ambition to collaboratively deliver a 'Global Seed Information Facility'.

Kew launches two new MSc courses

As part of Kew's ambitious commitment to training the next generation of biodiversity scientists, we're expanding our postgraduate training offer with the launch of two new MSc courses. The MSc programmes offer the opportunity to study at Kew, with unrivalled access to our scientific collections, laboratory facilities, partnerships and landscapes.

Students can now choose between three MSc programmes at Kew in partnership with Queen Mary University of London or Royal Holloway, University of London:

Watch our short film: Study for an MSc at Kew

Further information on the MSc courses can be found:

Ten Golden Rules paper journals most downloaded in 2021

The paper "Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimize carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits", published in the journal Global Change Biology last year was the journals most downloaded paper of 2021. Millennium Seed Bank staff and partners played a significant role in drafting this paper, including Alice Di Sacco, Kate Hardwick and Elinor Breman from RBG Kew, and Stephen Elliott from the Forest Restoration Research Unit, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. In addition, the paper formed part of the evidence base for the 'Kew Declaration on Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods' which was signed by over 3,000 global experts and citizens.




Issue 1: September 2021

This issue we hear about field work activities in Australia, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa; we interviewed Janet Terry who retired from the Millennium Seed Bank in July after more than 30 years and we outline the current plant health requirements for shipping plant material to the UK.

Clusters of orange flowers on tree branches
Butea monosperma, Pakistan. (Photo: Amir Sultan).
Two purple flower heads emerging from rocks
Conophytum spp., South Africa. (Photo: J.A.S. James).
Several purple flowers on a branch with opposite pinnate leaves
Guaiacum coulterii, Mexico. (Photo: Jesús Sánchez).
A row of orchid seedlings with corresponding identification tags ready for translocation
Pterostylis psammophila, Australia. (Photo: Dr Jenny Guerin).

Pakistan is rated as ‘comparatively’ forest-poor by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), with only 0.05 ha of forest per capita compared with a global average of 1.0 ha in 2019 (FAO, 2002). In addition, the severe impacts of a changing climate, the high rate of population growth (1.95%) and the subsequent pressure on land, together with a high demand for forest products, is placing additional strains on the country’s forest cover.

In rural areas, wood is an important commodity for fuel and timber, which is driving forest clearance at an alarming rate (90% of households are reliant on wood for fuel). And additional pressures exist due to severe overgrazing and the conversion of forests for agriculture.

IUCN conservation assessments show that many trees used for their medicinal properties in Pakistan are threatened with extinction, such as the Critically Endangered Commiphora wightii (Mukul myrrh tree), while Taxus wallichiana (Himalayan yew) and Rhamnella gilgitica are classified as Endangered and Vulnerable respectively. Much research still needs to be carried out on other species to lift them from the status of Data Deficient, such as Cercis griffithii (Afghan rebud), Malus chitralensis (Chitral crab apple) and Prunus bokharienis.

Dr Shakeel Ahmad Jatoi and Dr Amir Sultan filling out paper forms in the field
Dr. Shakeel Ahmad Jatoi, Principal Scientific Officer, Bio-Resources Conservation Institute, left, and Dr. Amir Sultan, Programme Leader, Principal Scientific Officer, National Herbarium of Pakistan, record herbarium specimen data during a seed collecting trip to Chitral in June 2021. (Photo: Syed Bilal Hussain Shah).

A two-year project funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation in collaboration with the Pakistan Bio-resources Conservation Institute (BCI) is aiming to collect the seeds of at least 70 rare, threatened and over-exploited useful tree and shrub species in Pakistan. This project (part of the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme) follows on from the successful partnership between RBG Kew and BCI in the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Pakistan Project – MAPs (2019) and the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change (Crop Wild Relative - CWR) project (2016-2018). Project funding has purchased essential equipment needed to increase the capacity of BCI staff to conserve seed collections, such as a seed aspirator, an incubator-drier, a freezer, and tree seed collecting equipment. Additional funding secured from the Alan Lennox Boyd Memorial Trust was used to purchase reference books and herbarium supplies.

Despite delays to the project due to COVID-19, the team in Pakistan led by Dr. Sadar Uddin Siddiqui (Chief Scientific Officer/Curator of the National Genebank of Pakistan and Director of the Bio-resources Conservation Institute) has been able to collect seeds and herbarium specimens from plants belonging to 18 families, 29 genera and 31 species. Collections in the 2020/2021 season were made across a variety of habitat types and include rarities in Pakistan, such as Wrightia arborea (Woolly dyeing rosebay) from which the root, bark and leaves can be used in traditional medicine, as well as Butea monosperma (Flame of the forest) and the climate change-resilient, but underutilized, Sideroxylon mascatense. This plant is a small, but viciously spiny shrub, that produces a sweet edible purple fruit (a bit like a plum), which is believed to have the potential to be brought more widely into cultivation.

Hannan Majeed and Syed Bilal Hussain Shah using a pole pruner to collect seeds from the top of a tree
Hannan Majeed, right, and Syed Bilal Hussain Shah, collect seeds of Flacourtia indica in Shahdara, Islamabad Capital Territory, as part of the medicinal trees and shrubs project (Photo: Sadar Siddiqui).
Two orange flowers
Flowers of Butea monosperma (Flame of the forest). (Photo: Amir Sultan).
Clusters of orange flowers on tree branches
Butea monosperma (Flame of the forest) in full bloom in Rawalpindi District, Pakistan, in April 2021. (Photo: Amir Sultan).
References
  • FAO (2002) An overview of forest products statistics in South and Southeast Asia. Eds. Ma, Q. & Broadhead, J.S.. EC-FAO Partnership Programme.

The Succulent Karoo biome stretches along the west coast of South Africa, spanning an area of approximately 111,000 km2 between southern Namibia and the uplands of the Western Cape Province. It is home to 5000 vascular plant species, 40% of which are endemic. The world’s richest succulent flora occurs here. This diversity is remarkable for a region that receives 100 to 200 mm of rain annually (Mucina et al. 2006). In addition to this limited winter rainfall, the plants depend on the contributions of fog, dew and water vapour to meet their water requirements (Matimati et al. 2012).

Landscape photograph of rocky slopes and distant mountains with little vegetation
The Northern Cape landscape. (Photo: J.A.S. James).

In the past two years, an unprecedented upsurge in wild plant poaching from the Succulent Karoo and the adjacent Nama Karoo biomes has escalated the need for conservation in these regions. The partnership between RBG Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has achieved over 7500 seed collections of native South African species to date. However, the species of the Succulent Karoo are relatively under-collected due to the high endemism of this biome and the remote locations of populations, which make accessibility for seed collections difficult. Thus, there are still many hundreds of rare and threatened plant species yet to be secured by seed banking.

The recent poaching increase is the result of a new interest in caudiciform and dwarf succulent species on foreign markets. Since mid-2019 there has been an increase in the number of poacher arrests and confiscation of wild plant material, which is brought to SANBI for identification, expert statements, and curation. In 2019 SANBI received on average 400 confiscated plants per week, which rose dramatically in 2021, to over 1500 plants per week. The genus Conophytum (Aizoaceae) has been especially targeted by poachers, while other confiscated genera include Anacampseros (Anacampserotaceae), Lithops (Aizoaceae) and Portulacaria (Portulacaceae). Many of these succulent species are already threatened and in some cases are critical habitat species, meaning that they only occur in an area less than 10 km2. This is the case for 48 Conophytum species, which occur as single populations, often on one ridge of a single mountain. Rare populations such as these are easily driven to extinction through over harvesting and several Conophytum species may already be extinct as a direct result of recent poaching.

Poaching compounds the pressure on these species from climate change. Models based on the key climatic and geological variables that influence Conophytum distribution predict a severe contraction of suitable habitat for most of the genus, increasing their extinction risk (Young et al. 2016).

In efforts to save these species from extinction in the wild, MSB South Africa has joined with the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW), a SANBI programme that surveys and documents plant taxa of conservation concern, providing data essential for updating the IUCN Red List. A new MSB Karoo biome extension project is also currently being developed to respond to this conservation crisis.

Group image of 9 people in front of a dry mountainous landscape
Team photo: Maria Kotze, Nomndeni Nkosi, Jacqui James, Ruby Davies, Pieter van Wyk, Leandra Knoetze, Volenti van der Westhuizen, Adam Harrower and Gavin Links. (Photo: A.D. Harrower).

There is now a race to bank the seeds before populations are decimated by poaching. Earlier this year MSB South Africa joined CREW on a field trip to assess and bank seeds of the species currently under the most poaching pressure. It was incredible to see the effort that goes into succulent poaching. To find them, the team had to scramble up steep rocky mountainsides under the blazing sun in the dry expanse of the Northern Cape, our vehicles becoming specks in the distance. The dry remains of succulents that had succumbed to the severe drought in recent years were scattered across the landscape, a reminder of the delicate balance of this region and the losses that may be brought about by climate change.

A succulent plant on cracked ground with several seed capsules.
Aizoaceae: Cheiridopsis robusta. (Photo: J.A.S. James).
Two purple flower heads emerging from rocks
Conophytum growing on a cliff face. (Photo: J.A.S. James).

Species of the genus Conophytum grow as single bodies (smaller than your thumb) or in small dense clusters that camouflage well with their rocky surroundings. They often grow tucked into rock crevices and (in some cases) are only present on impossible to reach cliff faces, which may indicate that the more accessible plants have already been poached. In two cases, poachers were at the sites only a few hours before us. It was a privilege to see these species in their natural habitats, but tragic to know that if the poaching continues, we might be some of the last. Yet, there is still hope for these species, in the seeds of 11 species collected on that trip and others that will soon be stored in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank, protecting these species for the future.

References
  • Matimati, I., Musil, C.F., Raitt, L. & February, E. (2012) Non rainfall moisture interception by dwarf succulents and their relative abundance in an inland arid South African ecosystem. Ecohydrology. 6: 818-825. https://doi.org/10.1002/eco.1304.
  • Mucina, L., Jürgens, N., Le Roux, A., Rutherford, M.C., Schmiedel, U., Esler, K., Powrie, L.W., Desmet, P.G. & Milton, S.J. (2006) Succulent Karoo Biome. In: Mucina, L., Rutherford, M.C. (Eds.) The Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelitzia 19. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. pp. 220-299.
  • Young, A.J., Guo, D., Desmet, P.G. & Midgley, G.F. (2016) Biodiversity and climate change: Risks to dwarf succulents in Southern Africa. Journal of Arid Environments. 129: 16-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2016.02.005.

Bridging the gap between the US Rocky Mountains and the Mexican Sierra Madre is a complex of 50 mountain ranges known as the Madrean ‘Sky islands’ Archipelago. With a diversity of habitats from desert shrubland to pine-oak woodlands, arranged across varied topography, the region is a priority for research and conservation, but botanical collections are under-represented from the Mexican territory (Deyo et al. 2013) and climate change is projected to erode and fragment the montane habitats (Yanahan & Moore 2018) before they have been fully studied.

Through the MSB Partnership, the Seed Bank of Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala Universidad Autónoma de Mexico (FES-I UNAM) and RBG Kew have cooperated since August 2018 with the Herbarium of the University of Sonora (USON), in the important effort to conserve the Sonoran flora through seed banking. The aim was to diversify the collections of the seed banks involved and support their research studies, by collecting at least 150 accessions of native species of interest. Using USON in Hermosillo as the main base, field work was concentrated in 17 municipalities of Sonora State, as illustrated on the map in Fig. 1.

A map of Sonora state highlighting the municipalities of Agua Prieta, Alamos, Caborca, Cucurpe, General Plutarco Elías Calles, Guaymas, Hermosillo, Huásabas, La Colorada, Mazatán, Nácori Chico, Pitiquito, Puerto Peñasco, Santa Cruz, Suaqui Grande, TEpache and Ures.
Figure 1. Municipalities visited in Sonora State. (Map: FES-I UNAM).

During the 2018 and 2019 collection season, teams comprising staff from Kew, UNAM, and USON worked together in the field. The work was intense, the months of June, August and October of 2018 were the best for seed collecting. To maintain safety in these border regions the team were careful to seek cooperation with landowners and other biologists in the field. Although the 2020 health emergency forced many activities to stop, fortunately a team of local collectors located in Guaymas, led by Pablo Carrillo (Fig. 2), worked very hard despite the restrictions and managed to collect many species of interest.

Pablo Carrillo holding a pole pruner to collect seeds from the top of a tree he is standing next to
Figure 2. Biol. Pablo Carrillo collecting Parkinsonia microphylla in the town of La Pintada. (Photo: Pablo Carrillo).

Through the efforts of the teams, we have just finished the project with even better than expected results. In total, 244 accessions representing 44 botanical families, 147 genera and 194 species were collected and conserved, of which 49 are endemic species. Three species are included in some category of risk in accordance with the Official Mexican Standard NOM-059 SEMARNAT 2010, 14 are in Appendix II of CITES and 17 are in the Least Concern (LC) category of the IUCN.

All the species collected have biological, ecological, or economic importance, however the following species are especially emblematic:

  • The Guayacán, Guaiacum coulterii A. Gray, a native tree of the thorny scrub of Sonora, has medicinal properties and its wood is useful for construction as well as being very beautiful as an ornamental plant and a source of food for different species of pollinators. It is classified as threatened in Mexico and vulnerable internationally (Fig. 3 & 4).
    Several purple flowers on a branch with opposite pinnate leaves
    Figure 3. Flower of Guayacán, Guaiacum coulterii. (Photo: Jesús Sánchez).
    Three small red oval fruits of Guaiacum coulterii hanging on the end of a branch
    Figure 4. Fruit of Guayacán, Guaiacum coulterii. (Photo: Jesús Sánchez).
  • The Cabeza de viejo (‘Old Man's Head’), Lophocereus schottii (Engelm.) Britton & Rose, is a columnar cactus which has medicinal properties, found in Sonora’s thorny scrub and dunes. It is classified as subject to special protection in Mexico.
  • The Saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose, is perhaps one of the most appreciated species for its beauty in Arizona and Sonora. It has threatened status in Mexico.
  • A Nopal, an Opuntia spp., collected in the Sierra de Mazatán, is probably a new species for science that is being described by specialists.

In conclusion, the state of Sonora is, without a doubt, a place rich in plant diversity that should continue to be studied and conserved. Much remains to be discovered, collected and conserved in the most remote and inhospitable areas that are unfortunately not very easy to access.

Thanks to this project, valuable information has been created on the flora of the sky islands within Sonora, and knowledge has been developed on how security can be maintained within the area, also on the bi-national distribution of species that are threatened in the United States and little known from Mexico. We acknowledge generous support of John and Catherine Emberson to the Kew Foundation to enable this project to happen.

References

Over the last month, staff at the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre have been undertaking several orchid translocations. We translocated 116 plants of Sandhill Greenhood (Pterostylis arenicola) to Torrens Island, with help from Coastal Officer Darren Kennedy to measure and tag plants. Darren will water and help monitor the plants. We also translocated some Bayonet Spider-orchids (Caladenia gladiolata) to a private heritage agreement near Scott Creek Conservation Park (CP). In addition, Jenny and Thai translocated the Two Bristle Greenhood (Pterostylis psammophila) to exclosures in Sandy Creek CP last week, with the help of Kym Smith from the Friends group who helped record, tag and plant the greenhoods in the exclosures. Kym will help monitor this translocated population in the future.

Thai and Kym kneeling down plant orchids
Thai Te and Kym Smith measuring, tagging and planting the endangered Pterostylis psammophila at Sandy Creek Conservation Park. (Photo: Dr Jenny Guerin).
A row of orchid seedlings with corresponding identification tags ready for translocation
Pterostylis psammophila plants propagated using symbiotic in-vitro methods ready for translocation. (Photo: Dr Jenny Guerin).

In the lab we’ve also isolated fungus for a number of threatened orchid species lately for some symbiotic in-vitro propagation work later this year. We’ve been trialling some methods for some difficult species so we were recently delighted (and relieved) to see some success for black-beaked duck-orchid (Caleana disjuncta). We’re doing further research on the Copper beard-orchid (Calochilus cupreus) at the moment for ‘Green Adelaide’ so we’re hoping for similar success before we take off into the wilds again. The world count got up to nearly 40 plants last year so we’re hoping to augment this with propagated plants…and find more populations.

Magnified image showing the tear drop shaped seed of Caleana disjuncta with fungal hyphae protruding
Black-beak duck orchid (Caleana disjuncta) protocorm on oatmeal agar media. (Photo: Dan Duaval, SASCC).

On the 27th August, we put on a display at Adelaide Botanic Garden of some of the endangered orchids (12+ species) we’re currently propagating for the ‘Back from the Brink’ project. This was a good opportunity for landholders, volunteers, partners and sponsors to see some of these interesting orchids in flower.

Kolkhuri jonjoli, Staphylea colchica Steven

Ian Willey (RBG Kew)

Staphylea colchica is native to the Caucasus region where it is known commonly as kolkhuri jonjoli (კოლხური ჯონჯოლი Georg.), Colchis Bladdernut, Caucasian Bladdernut, Jonjol or the Jonjoli tree. Staphylea colchica is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 4 metres in height with three or five ovate leaflets with finely toothed margins. In spring its small, white, fragrant bell-shaped flowers are borne on racemes and develop into greenish-white bladder-like papery fruits containing orange seeds (hence its name “bladdernut tree” in English). The flowering shoots with buds of ‘Jonjoli trees’ are edible and are pickled by fermenting in brine to produce Jonjoli, a revered delicacy in the Caucasus, and in Georgia are a common feature of the traditional feast “Supra”.

People from across the Caucasus region will have eaten Jonjoli, and an export market exists in countries with a significant Caucasian diaspora. S. colchica’s cultural value is both a blessing and a curse. Jonjoli occupies a special place in the region’s cultural identity with the tree recognisable and cherished by many. However, wild populations are threatened by the over collecting of reproductive parts for culinary purposes. Harvesting the flowering shoots and buds limits the plants’ ability to reproduce from seed, further decreasing the viability of source populations. Additionally, S. colchica distribution is severely fragmented across its native range, and the number of individual plants per population is low. A preliminary assessment in 2005 reports that distribution in the Caucasus has reduced by 50%, but a full global IUCN Red List assessment remains incomplete, and more field data is needed to establish a reliable baseline. Taxonomic studies are needed to validate species status and more research is needed to understand threats to the species and the true rate of decline.

Two ex situ seed collections of S. colchica are banked in Georgia and duplicated to the MSB. These collections are a key component of efforts to protect this species and seeds can be made available for use dependant on prior consent from partner institutions. However, S. colchica requires greater protection in situ. Overharvesting and land-use change are very real threats but by promoting sustainable harvesting and engaging communities, as was done in the Darwin Initiative-funded Enhancing rural Caucasian livelihoods through fruit and nut conservation, this culturally significant plant can be protected.

More information on other species conserved through the project can be found in the project booklet (pdf).

A cluster of white flowers and buds
The flowers and buds of the Jonjoli tree. (Photo: National Botanic Garden, Georgia).
A group of people standing in a circle listening to a member of the British Georgian Society in front of a Jonjoli tree
The Georgian Ambassador to the UK, Her Excellency Ms Sophie Katsarava, with the British Georgian Society presenting the cultural importance of Jonjoli whilst standing in front of Staphylea colchica at Kew Gardens, July 2020 (Photo: I. Willey).

A fond farewell to Janet Terry

Three people stood holding a framed certificate infront of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Janet (centre) as part of the MSB team delivering seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on behalf of The Prince of Wales. (Photo: Ahmed Amri).
Janet holding a small glass vial containing a seed
Janet holding the billionth seed to be banked at the MSB. (Photo: Paul Little).

Circa 1984, when Janet began a Saturday job working in the restaurant at Wakehurst, she could not have envisaged the 3-decade long career which would follow, when she would go on to travel the world and meet, train, and collect with “so many of our wonderful partners” and “see so many strange and unique seeds and know we have them safely stored”.

When an opportunity arose with the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR, now The Crop Trust) which was running a seed handling unit at Wakehurst, Janet applied for the job as “it sounded interesting!”. Teams went out in the field (predominantly Africa) to collect cultivars and specimens of all the major crops. These got sent back to Janet, who had to sort and distribute them to the crop gene banks which were working on them. In 1990 a seed processing job came up with Kew and Janet moved to work for Kew. Work started on setting standards for collecting and storing seeds. As Janet says, these standards remain largely unchanged today – “keep it dry, keep it cool and it will live longer”.


We asked Janet to reflect on her incredible journey:


What will you miss most about working at the MSB? The people – definitely! Especially the contact with counterparts in equivalent positions around the world, who we can share ideas and experiences with.

What's the favourite species you have handled? The grapple - Harpagophytum. We collected them in Botswana. They were quite challenging to collect and even more so to clean!

What's your first memory of working here? That the Seedbank was in the Mansion – Lady Price’s bedroom was the lab and Sir Henry Price’s bathroom was the x-ray room. The stark contrast of working in an Elizabethan mansion whilst concentrating on cutting edge work! There was a large computer which took up a whole room in the Orchard building. In those early days the field data sheets were loaded onto this huge computer, so from the outset the data has been stored digitally.

What advice would you give to somebody about how to clean a collection? Slowly and carefully!

How do you see seed processing changing in the future? Funding for ‘business as usual’ processing is difficult. People love to fund new and exciting projects, but we need to be able to sustain the day-to-day processing, otherwise we may end up without processing roles and just dry and store seed at -20°C. Without viability testing, we cannot distribute the seed. This highly skilled work by practical applied scientists needs to be supported. I wish their skills were valued more highly. It’s also learning from others – the partnership, collaboration and knowledge that is the MSB’s strength.

If you hadn't worked here, what else might you have liked to do? When I worked for IBPGR, I went to a conference at their headquarters in Rome and a network contact from Indonesia offered me a job working with Orangutans. I was very tempted - things could have been very different!

What are you planning to do in your retirement? Nothing at first - that’s the point! Then I’ll probably get a part time job, working outdoors.

If you could be one plant, what would it be and why? A Welwitschia, as it’s slow growing and they live for an awfully long time. I would sit and watch the world go by!

A close up image of a woody seed pod with several stalks protuding with hooks on
A Harpagophytum fruit. (Photo: Elly Vaes, RBG Kew).
A single Welwitschia plant in the desert
Welwitschia mirabilis. (Photo: Andrew McRobb).

Somehow, we can’t imagine Janet letting the grass grow under her feet for very long! Thank you to Janet for sharing her thoughts and memories with us.

What are the new requirements for sending plant material to the MSB?

Due to the UK leaving the European Union, there have been changes to Plant Health rules for shipping plant material to the UK.

All seed collections coming into the MSB from outside the UK now need to come with a phytosanitary certificate issued by the relevant authority in the exporting country. A phytosanitary certificate is an official document declaring that plants and plant material are free from pests and diseases. If seed collections arrive with this documentation, then none of the collections are classed as quarantine and the seeds and plant material will be processed as normal. This applies to wild collected and commercial seeds and plant material. The processing and long-term storage of the collections will be no different.

If a phytosanitary certificate cannot be obtained, then material will need to come in with a Letter of Authority (LoA) from the UK Plant Health Service, which can be obtained from the MSBP Conservation Coordinator for your region. However, any material coming in under the LoA will be treated as 'quarantine' upon arrival and restrictions will be placed on the future use of these collections.

As usual, before seed collections are dispatched to the MSB, species lists should be sent to the Seed Collections Manager who will check the list for any prohibited species and CITES-listed species (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Copies of all documents should be attached to the outside and also put inside the shipping box. Please also send the airwaybill (AWB) number and copies of the documents to the Seed Collections Manager, so the consignment can be tracked.

A desk with a row of paperwork, a row of seed packets and a set of herbarium specimens partially wrapped in newspaper on
Preparing the paperwork, seeds and herbarium specimens for shipment. (Photo: RBG Kew).

Recent publications from across the MSBP:

Updates to the field data form

We are currently in the process of updating the field data form to improve its compatibility with the data required for IUCN threat assessments. We expect the update to be ready before the end of December.