Saving the world one seed at a time

Posted by Laura Grant on November 25, 2007
Posted in Green News

If you love baobabs, then Madagascar is the place to go. The island has six species of the “upside down tree”, South Africa has only one. It’s also the only place in the world you’ll find lemurs in the wild. In fact, about 70 percent of the plants and animals here are endemics (live nowhere else on Earth).

The island split from the African continent tens of millions of years ago, allowing its inhabitants to evolve in isolation, undisturbed by human beings until 2,000 years ago. But countless species in this biodiversity hotspot are gone and many others face extinction. Britain’s Kew Gardens is trying to do something about it.

For years Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project has been collecting and storing seeds from around the world. “Seed banks provide an insurance policy against the extinction of plants in the wild and provide options for their future use,” explains the project’s website. With the rate of extinction estimated by Conservation International to be one species every 20 minutes, or 25,000 a year, thanks to habitat loss and climate change, Kew has its work cut out.

British journalist AA Gill joined a Kew seed-hunting team on a collecting expedition in Madagascar. There was also a team compiling “the first exhaustively definitive atlas of Madagascar’s flora”. For nine days, the teams travelled more than 3,000km — and collected just seven species of seeds.

To read the full story of Gill’s Madagascar adventure in the Sunday Times click here.

The Millennium Seed Bank also collects seeds in South Africa, for more on this click here.

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