Threatened plants bank on the seeds of success

Some of our threatened plant species need a large helping hand to survive – and this can mean collecting seeds from their home soil, storing and nurturing them and, in many cases, returning or translocating them to their habitats.

People looking at flowers and plants at the PlantBank, Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan

The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan last month welcomed a delegation from the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to see the Gardens’ Australian PlantBank in action.

The PlantBank was realised in its current ‘state-of the art’ building in 2013 with the latest in temperature-regulated rooms and vaults, cryo-chambers and both indoor and outdoor storage and propagation facilities for the living collection of seeds and plants.

PlantBank offers investment in the priceless surety and future of our native plant species.

'You are standing in the most biodiverse location in Australia with over 60 per cent of the country’s plant species’ seeds stored in just one room of this building!' said the Gardens’ Curator Manager, John Siemon, during his welcome.

The PlantBank works in tandem with the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Herbarium to protect the future of NSW plant species and is closely aligned with the work of OEH’s Saving our Species (SoS) program.

Manager Seedbank & Restoration Research, Peter Cuneo, told SoS News that the Plant Bank is directly assisting over 20 SoS threatened plant species projects.

For instance, Peter has long been involved in the translocations for Allocasuarina portuensi, commonly known as the Nielsen Park She-oak.

Person seated in laboratory treating seedsSenior Threatened Species Officer Erica Mahon from SoS believes it was the first formal plant translocation in New South Wales. The original known habitat of the Nielsen Park She-oak is at Nielsen Park itself in Sydney’s east and there were no plants left – propagation material has now been successfully planted.

'Our actions for this threatened plant species are totally reliant on planted material from Mount Annan and we are currently preparing for a broader translocation, including across the Harbour ,' Ms Mahon said.

The PlantBank is also vital for the future of many other SoS threatened plant species projects.

'Other projects include building a good supply of Grevillea caleyi seed in storage at Mount Annan across the three genetic areas. With support from numerous landholders we are in the third year of collection of seed,' Ms Mahon said.

'The process of collection in the field can be challenging and time consuming – individual branches need to be bagged at the Baha-i Temple site in northern Sydney and then the seeds collected up to two weeks later, with some being lost to predators in that time.'

So, this project with PlantBank is an insurance policy to protect the genetic diversity of sites like this one.'

Further facts

  • Some seeds are stored at temperatures as low as -196 degrees celsius!
  • Outside the PlantBank, the Australian Botanic Garden covers a total area of 416 hectares, including several arboreta, theme gardens, Cumberland Plain Woodland and other native landscapes.
  • The PlantBank also hosts shoots of a different variety – the building’s ‘futuristic’ entrance has become a favoured location for prestige car advertisement shoots.

Want to visit Australian Botanic Garden or its PlantBank?

The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan is open every day, 10 am to 5 pm except Christmas Day. Entry is free.

PlantBank is open Monday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm. Volunteer-led guided tours operate most days, including weekends. Please check with the Australian Botanic Garden Visitor Centre on 02 4634 7935 to confirm availability and register your interest.

Main photo: Katherine Willis, PlantBank Technical Officer sorts Hibbertia sp. Bankstown seeds, Rosemary Pryor/OEH