Brain Pickings

The Story of the Millennium Seed Bank Project + Gorgeous Vintage Seed Catalog Cover Artwork

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What 30 double-decker buses have to do with biodiversity and our dinner parties of the future.

All human life — all life — depends on plants. The genetic information for future plants is held in their seeds, so the biodiversity of our planet, as well as the sustenance of our species and others’, depends entirely on the seeds that survive from generation to generation. Since 2000, the Millennium Seed Bank Project by the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens has been working with hundreds of partners in 50 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 dryland wild plants. 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.

The Last Great Plant Hunt: The Story of the Millennium Seed Bank Project offers an unprecedented look at one of the most important and ambitious international conservation efforts of our time. From how seeds are collected and cared for to what role they play in conservation research, the book blends equal parts practicality and perspective to reinstill in you a profound appreciation for our planet’s remarkable biosphere.

If you still doubt the vital significance of plants, this short but compelling 2009 TED talk by Kew’s Jonathan Drori will convince you otherwise:

For an even more breathtaking, visceral reminder of the magnificence of plants — one unaffiliated with the Millennium Seed Bank Project but in a way a manifesto for it — get lost in this stunning vintage cover artwork from the Smithsonian’s collection Seed Nursery Catalogs.

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