The earliest seed accession stored at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) that originated from the African continent seems to be from Kenya of Crabbea velutina - a widespread African Acanthaceae. It was originally donated to Kew in 1961 as a small collection of some 600 seeds by Peter Bally then working at what is now the East African Herbarium in Nairobi. It was eventually transferred to our deep freezers at Wakehurst Place in 1972 yet still remains alive with a germination rate of 100% recorded on its last test in 2006. Ex situ for 55 years, frozen for 44 years and counting….
Since those early days, and especially since we launched the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) in the year 2000, the duplicated collections from mainland Africa held at the MSB has risen to some 17,875 collections from 42 African countries with a further 4,062 collections from Madagascar. This represents at least one collection from each of 11,221 species. For mainland Africa this still only represents c.16% of all species, and perhaps 20% of all desiccation tolerant species.
And whilst this gives us at least one representative collection from nearly three quarters of all plant families on mainland Africa we have sampled just 42% of all genera. So, still significant collections to be made to truly build a taxonomically representative and useful African collection.
And that should read - "..a set of African collections." ; our programme today sees significant seed collecting programmes active in 9 countries each delivering a substantial and vital national seed collection for economic development, support to agriculture and a resource to ensure the species and habitats these countries are so dependent on can always be restored and saved.