Brain Pickings

The Magic of Seeds and the Science of Insuring Earth’s Future


What tiny parachutes and a man named Wolfgang have to do with the future of all living species.

All life — including human life — depends on plants. All the genetic information the biodiversity of our planet, as well as the sustenance of our species and others’, is held in the seeds that survive from generation to generation. Since 2000, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens has been working with hundreds of partners in 54 countries to provide an “insurance policy” against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use. In 2007, it banked its billionth seed. By 2010, they had collected seeds from 24,000 different species of plants, representing 10% of the world’s plant diversity. By 2020, the project will have collected 25%. The underground seed vault, if filled wall-to-wall, could hold 100,000,000,000 rice grains or 30 tightly packed double-decker buses.

This superb short film, featuring breathtaking photomicroscopy of seeds by Rob Kesseler of Pollen fame, takes us behind the scenes of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, where the scientists of Kew Gardens are hard at work preserving wild plants and habitats for our future.

There’s no technological reason why any plant species should become extinct. We have every opportunity to pass on entire botanical heritage intact to future generations.

See more of Kesseler’s work on his site.

For a related treat, revisit the book about the project, accompanied by Jonathan Drori’s TEDx talk on seed preservation and some gorgeous vintage seed catalog illustrations.


Images from Seeds: Time Capsules of Life, by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy, published by Papadakis Publisher

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