North America

A tree climber near the top of a spruce tree
Collecting seed from Brewer Spruce, Iron Mountain, Oregon. Credit: M Way, RBG Kew.

Canada, USA, and Mexico have well established conservation seed-banking programmes that have contributed many collections to the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) Partnership. The native vascular flora of the continent north of Mexico is well studied and estimated by Natureserve at over 8,400 taxa (Canada) and over 29,000 taxa (USA). Mexico combines temperate and tropical biomes and has an estimated 23,314 native vascular plants (VillaseƱor, 2016) of which half are endemic to the country. Mexico has been recognised as an important centre of domestication of crops such as maize, beans, squash and cotton, and around 2000 species of crop wild relative, including sunflower, grape, sweet potato and strawberry have been recognised in the USA (Khoury et al. 2013).

Networks of protected areas including national parks, and biosphere reserves across the continent have helped to slow the loss of plant species on which all ecosystems depend, but all three countries have recognised the importance of ex situ conservation programmes to preserve critical genetic diversity for use by future generations. The MSB Partnership works with government, academic and civil society organisations to seed bank wild plants of conservation importance and from habitats at particular risk from land use and climate change. In North America we partner with public landowners, universities, and botanic gardens that share our objectives, and we cooperate closely with research groups studying the sampling, cryopreservation and use of seed collections.

In the USA our projects follow a major collaboration since 2001 with the Bureau of Land Management and associated NGO partners as part of the Seeds of Success programme, targeting species of potential use for habitat restoration. This now forms part of the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration, which we are supporting with MSB Partnership data and information. It also compliments collaborations since 2015 with USDA Forest Service which have targeted relict populations of conifers vulnerable to projected climate change.

Collaborations in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas also contribute to the MSB Partnership activities in this region.

Past projects (click project titles for details)

Supporters - Philecology Trust

Through our partners the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), threatened plants were prioritised and seed collected and banked by CPC member organisations with a duplicate seed collection provided to the US national germplasm system. Initial priority was given to support the California Plant Rescue program (CaPR), collecting some of the most endangered native plants of the state.

Between 2013-2019, this collaboration led to the collection of 215 accessions of rare or threatened species. With combined efforts and additional funding from US collaborators, CPC participating institutions in this initiative have collected accessions from 316 globally rare species during the timeframe of this partnership. Where possible, partners collected seeds from multiple populations, as recommended by CPC best practices and Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) standards for conservation collections.

In 2019 the final field year of this project, partners collected seed from 24 target species. An example was the seed collection made by North Carolina Botanic Garden from the Southern Appalachian purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea var. montana, sampled from two populations that had not previously been banked. The seed collection data is shared with RBG Kew for analysis but location data has been withheld from wider access through the MSBP Data Warehouse due to the status of this precious flora.

The seed conservation partners in this project were:

Supporters - Marisla Foundation

Three people collecting seed from a palm
Collecting seed from Brahea armata, Baja California. Credit: W. Stuppy RBG Kew.

Implemented with our partners the Faculty of Higher Studies at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (FESI-UNAM), in close cooperation with the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), this project strengthened capacity for seed conservation on the peninsula, and jointly made seed collections of priority native species, for seed-banking at FESI-UNAM and MSB. This project followed a successful first phase of work in 2014 and 2015 also supported by the Marisla Foundation, in which seed collections were made from 250 targeted plant populations.

This project formed part of a wider collaboration between Kew and UNAM to promote and accelerate ex situ seed conservation in Mexico, starting with the arid and semi-arid areas of the country. In the face of rapid changes in land use, urbanisation, climate change, and the encroachment of invasive plant species as well as destructive pathogens and pests, ex situ conservation is an essential measure to protect the native flora.

The seed conservation partners in this project were:

Supporters - Pronatura Veracruz; Garfield Weston Foundation

A tree climber half way up a tree
FESI-UNAM collector climbing for tree seed, Puebla, Mexico. Credit: M. Way, RBG Kew.

Implemented by our partners the Faculty of Higher Studies at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (FESI-UNAM), this project analysed the distribution of endemic, protected and useful tree species of Mexico, made comprehensive seed collections of priority species, carried out seed research activities to support conservation and use of priority trees, and disseminated project information to scientific and general audiences. A particular focus of the fieldwork was in Veracruz state, with the assistance of the NGO Pronatura Veracruz.

This project contributed to the first phase of the Garfield Weston Global Tree Seed Bank Programme and is described in more detail on our project page.

The seed conservation partners in this project were:

For further information please contact Michael Way, Conservation Partnership Coordinator for the Americas at the MSB.