Campus News

Celebrating 20 years of plant conservation

For 20 years the North Carolina Botanical Garden has been a member of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, an underground seed bank that protects 2.4 billion seeds from all across the planet.

Peter Randall-Page sculpture symbolising the seed collection stored in the Millennium Seed Bank.
Peter Randall-Page sculpture symbolizing the seed collection stored in the United Kingdom’s Millennium Seed Bank.

The year 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, the largest ex situ plant conservation effort in the world. Led by the United Kingdom’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this underground seed bank protects 2.4 billion seeds from all across the planet. The North Carolina Botanical Garden is one of only five United States institutions that are primary partners.

Millennium Seed Bank PartnershipAs part of the 20th anniversary celebration, North Carolina Botanical Garden Director of Conservation Johnny Randall reflected on the garden’s participation in this program over the last two decades.

Facts about notable banked seeds

The garden curates seeds of 56 of the region’s rare plants, most of which are listed as globally imperiled (G1G2) and are narrow endemics, only growing in a small area. Yadkin River goldenrod (Solidago plumosa) grows only along a 2.5-mile stretch of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. Peters Mountain mallow (Iliamna corei) grows only on a single mountain on the Virginia-West Virginia border. Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is an obvious notable species — endemic to the Carolinas (99% occurring in North Carolina).

Seed banking achievements

Current North Carolina Botanical Garden seed collection numbers by project:

  • Seeds of Success — 5,600,000 (280 accessions from 117 species)
  • Center for Plant Conservation — 15,000 (578 accessions from 85 species)
  • Native Plant Materials Development — 1,800,000 (276 accessions from 120 species)
  • Horticulture Department — 44,000 (1,805 accessions from 148 species)
Chris Liloia collects seeds of Coastal sweet-pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia); photo by Johnny Randall

Chris Liloia collects seeds of coastal sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia). (Photo by Johnny Randall)

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is one of the eight founding members of the Center for Plant Conservation in 1984, a primary Millennium Seed Bank partner with four other U.S. botanical institutions with over 200 accessions (of at least 20,000 seeds each) contributed from the southeastern U.S. and one of three botanical institutions (with New England Wild Flower Society and New York Greenbelt Center) that formed Seeds of Success East — a three-year project to collect restoration seed for coastlines of the Mid-Atlantic damaged from Hurricane Sandy.

The garden received awards for participation in the Seeds of Success Program (in association with the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership), the 2010 U.S. Department of the Interior Partners Award and the first ever National Seed Collector Award in 2010 from U.S. Bureau of land Management to the Garden’s seed collector Andy Walker.

Recently the Garden founded a Native Plant Materials Development program to provide both seeds and/or plants for restoration projects. Since the program’s inception in 2019, they have collected over 1.8 million seeds representing 120 species from the North Carolina Piedmont, Sandhills and barrier islands; and 50 species in seed increase plots for bulk restoration seed.

What does being part of the MSBP mean?

Ex situ conservation is vital for biological diversity protection where we enjoy participation with local, regional, national and international associates,” said Randall. “We are honored to be one of the many global MSBP partners that share a common mission.”

Johnny Randall (L) and Michael Kunz (R) collect seeds of Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) in the North Carolina Coastal Plain. Photo by Andrew Bell.

Johnny Randall (left) and Michael Kunz (right) collect seeds of Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) in the North Carolina Coastal Plain. (Photo by Andrew Bell)

Why is seed banking important?

As a conservation garden, ex situ conservation has been part of the garden’s programming for over 50 years when it promoted and popularized conservation through propagation. Since then, the short- and long-term seed banking program continues to grow. Outside of the actual action of seed banking, the garden enjoys the collegiality among a vast number of botanical institutions with whom they share collections management information, research results, conservation successes and failures, and lively conversations at annual meetings.

Read more stories from the North Carolina Botanical Garden.