Seed the Future and the National Seed Bank
Posted: 30 July 2021
The Parks Trust online auction supporting Seed the Future has ended but the critical work of the National Seed Bank at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) continues. The National Seed Bank is home to a large and ever-increasing collection of Australian plant seeds. Seed banking provides a safety net and ensures plant material is available for propagation if and when it is required for species recovery or restoration. The urgency to ensure we have seed collections of our most threatened plants is fuelled by the increasing threat of climate change and other human impacts upon the Australian environment.
The equipment that can now be purchased as a result of generous ‘Seed the Future’ auction bids and donations from our supporters will be transformational for the National Seed Bank, enabling more diverse seed and plant types to be stored and more research on how to grow these species to run concurrently.
The National Seed Bank staff focus collection efforts in Commonwealth Reserves and species from the ACT and alpine areas. But it can take a long time before the success of a seed collection is confirmed. Two threatened native flora species which have been challenging to both germinate and grow are finally showing promise of a brighter future. The Mangata or Desert Quandong (Santalum acuminatum), is listed as vulnerable in the Northern Territory and has significant cultural value to the Aṉangu land-owners of Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park.
There are 14 individual mature trees remaining in the National Park and these trees are at risk from wildfire and introduced feral herbivores. The recommended recovery actions for this Desert Quandong population are to fence the extant population to protect it from fire, camel and rabbit damage and to propagate seedlings to supplement the existing population.
The species is difficult to germinate because it has dormancy characteristics that must be broken in order for it to germinate and because it is semi-parasitic, requiring a host plant of another species to survive and grow with.
Working with the ANBG Living Collections team and a collection of seeds from the National Park, the National Seed Bank has made progress with breaking physical dormancy by cracking the woody endocarp surrounding the seed and overcoming physiological dormancy by running the seed through an after-ripening rapid wetting and drying cycle.
As a result of this experimental germination work, the Nursery at the Australian National Botanic Gardens managed to grow 19 plants on a diversity of host plants. The next steps are to continue working with Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to use what has been learnt from these trials to establish more plants in the park.
Naturally germinating seed of the Desert Quandong (Santalum acuminatum)
The critically endangered Dales Waterfall Fern (Pneumatopteris truncata) can only be found in the wild at an internationally recognised wetland on Christmas Island National Park known as The Dales. In 2018, rangers at Christmas Island National Park identified a rare opportunity to collect spores sustainably and sent them to the team in Canberra in the hope they could find a way to propagate them.
The Dales, Christmas island National Park.
It has taken a number of years, but working together, the National Seed Bank and the ANBG Living Collection team have been able to develop a method to germinate the spores in the laboratory and then grow the plants on in a climate-controlled nursery.
ANBG Nursery Manager Joe McAuliffe with one of the propagated Dales Waterfall ferns.
They have now grown 80 new individual plants and the knowledge gained on how to propogate the fern is being shared with Christmas Island colleagues. The warmth of the nursery at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra may be a long way from The Dales, where waterfalls and streams flow through idyllic rainforests, but it has played a critical role in expanding the numbers of this very rare and threatened species.
These are great stories showing how we can protect and strengthen the future of our precious native flora. But there are many more Australian plants under threat. We need to continue to build our capacity for more and better seed banking and research on the propagation of threatened Australian plants so they are not lost forever. The National Parks Conservation Trust is proud to support the ongoing work of the National Seed Bank and the Australian National Botanic Gardens through the Seed the Future project.
If you would like to add your support to Seed the Future and the work of the National Seed Bank please go to https://parkstrust.org.au/projects/seed-the-future/