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Entire Continent’s Plants Saved From Extinction

17 May 2006
 Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica

 The entire continent's plant species in happy
coexistence on the Northern slopes of Lynch Island.
Image © Colin Harris,
Environmental Research & Assessment

All the plants of an entire continent have been saved thanks to the efforts of Dr. Tim Rich.  Nifty work by the botanist has ensured that Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank now holds seed collections from the entire vascular plant flora of Antarctica – safe and sound in its underground vaults at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex.

The task was made easier because, although the trip was long and arduous, there are just two species in question!

These are Deschampsia antarctica (Antarctic hairgrass) and Antarctic pearlwort Colobanthus quitensis – and were successfully collected from Livingston Island, in the South Shetland Islands, which lie just off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“Dr. Rich, of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, has collected extensively as part of the seed bank’s earlier UK Flora Programme”, says Donations Officer Steve Alton.  He picked up the flora of Antarctica on a tourist trip to the southern continent and we now have them banked for safe keeping should anything happen to the plants in their natural habitat.”

Kew’s ambitious project is aiming to safeguard seeds from the world’s drylands areas which grow into plants to provide food, medicine, fuel, shelter, clothes and transport such as carts and canoes.

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