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Seed banking in the Carpathian Basin: the Pannon Seed Bank Project

Volume 12 Number 1 - January 2015

Krisztián Halász, Géza Kósa, Gergely Lunk, Éva Szakács, Tünde Thalmeiner, Katalin Török, Vince Zsigm

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The main objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity is the conservation of the Earth’s biodiversity.  In responding to this, the European Union (EU) has developed an EU Biodiversity Strategy, which is implemented through the EU Biodiversity Action Plan. One element of this Action Plan is to identify and fill critical gaps in ex situ conservation programmes for wild species.
Furthermore, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, adopted as part of the CBD in 2002, has set a target that at least 75% of endangered species must be preserved in ex-situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, by 2020.

The Pannon Seed Bank

In compliance with the above, the main goal of this project was to create the Pannon Seed Bank in Hungary to facilitate the long-term seed preservation of the wild vascular flora of the Pannonian biogeographical region, in order to assist and complement in situ species conservation activities.

In addition to the increased safety in case of accidental loss or degradation of endangered populations of rare species in natural, native habitats (Bölöni et al., 2007), ex situ seed banks may provide:

  •     additional possibilities for monitoring genetic changes in wild populations;
  •     facilitate access to research material without increasing the rate of disturbance of and pressure on the original habitats;
  •     assist multidisciplinary studies on factors involved in the maintenance of diversity and stability of plant associations.

Collectively, seed banks provide a valuable collection of natural assets, which are of great importance in conserving biodiversity at national, European and global levels and in helping to meet the 2010 and 2020 biodiversity objectives.

The seed bank project

The Pannon Seed Bank project (full title: Establishment of the Pannon Seed Bank for the long-term ex situ conservation of Hungarian vascular wild plants) was financed by the LIFE+ programme and co-financed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Hungary. The main objective of the project was to collect and preserve at least 800 species of the wild native flora of the Pannonian Biogeographical Region between 2010 and 2014 (Jalas et al., 1972-1999, Kurtto et al., 2004-2007, Tutin et al., 1964-1980).

Seed samples are saved in the Base and Active storage facilities of the Pannon Seed Bank established at the Research Centre for Agrobiodiversity at Tápiószele (RCAT) of the Central Agricultural Office; the man-made mine hole inside the Esztramos Hill of the Aggtelek National Park Directorate (ANPD); and at the Institute of Ecology and Botany of the Centre for Ecological Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (IEB CER HAS) in the National Botanical Garden of Vácrátót.  Expert botanists from IEB CER HAS and the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden elaborated and coordinated most of the collection activities, which were carried out with the involvement of botanists, local experts and rangers of the National Park Directorates.

Reintroduction of a sand steppe species to a Natura 2000 priority habitat was carried out to demonstrate the practical uses of surplus seed samples stored in the active seed bank. Ten species characteristic to Pannonic sand steppes and inland dune habitats are planned to be reintroduced to a 12-hectare site of ex-arable fields invaded by common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in the vicinity of the Fülöpháza Sand Dune Area of the Kiskunság National Park.

The role of the National Botanical Garden of Vácrátót of IEB CER HAS in the project is important. It provides the site for one of the Active storage rooms, as well as for research in the reintroduction of species. The garden has the richest collection of living plant material in Hungary (13,000 taxa) and is an important ex situ site for preservation and demonstration. In 2007, Berkenyeház, an exhibition building which also houses installations of the Pannon Seed Bank, showing its objective and importance was opened.

Seed collecting

The whole procedure of collecting seed samples (Brown and Marshall, 1995) of wild vascular plant species was carried out in compliance with the collection strategy and the seed collection methodology developed under the project, as well as under the strict control of the project and the coordination of the IEB CER, which is the most prominent national institute in vegetation mapping and botany-related issues, with long and in-depth experience.

Seed processing and storage work was carried out in harmony with the exploration and collection of seed samples.

A basic procedure was to accept seed samples into the Pannon Seed Bank complying with the following requirements:

  •     precise documentation of the species according to Király et al., (2009), habitat and collecting site;
  •     desired number and quality of seeds collected from a number of specimens adequately representing the population.

“Training sessions were organized for collectors to teach them the aims of the project and the process of collecting.”

A large quantity of data was obtained during this work, and a well-built database was developed to handle this.

Species identified for collecting from the Pannonian biogeographical region were chosen primarily according to their storability (Schermann, 1966). These characteristics resulted in a list of 1,841 collectable species of the total of 2,200 native vascular plant species of our country. 783 taxa of these have seeds with orthodox or orthodox/recalcitrant storability, 1,058 taxa are likely to have orthodox seeds or no literature could be found regarding their seed biology.

Seed storage

Once collected, seeds were rapidly transferred to receiving centres. After processing data and pre-cleaning, the seeds were forwarded to Tápiószele, where proper cleaning (according to the fruit and seed type), taxonomical identification and drying at room temperature were executed.

Seeds are packed in 3 layered moisture-proof, airtight containers. Seed samples are safeguarded in the Base (-20 °C) and Active (0 °C) storage facilities of the Pannon Seed Bank established at RCAT. 110 m³ of room is provided here. The Base collection serves the long-term conservation of reserve samples, while the Active collection helps to facilitate research and the distribution of research material. In order to achieve full safety, a duplicate store of the Base collection (50 m³) has been established inside a man-made mine hole inside the Esztramos Hill of the Aggtelek National Park Directorate to avoid risks of unexpected environmental/technical hazards. The duplicate store (50 m³) of the Active seed collection is located at the Institute of Ecology and Botany.

A total of 1,892 collections of 930 taxa have been processed during the 4 years of collection. Collections of 894 of these taxa were collected in an acceptable quality and quantity. A reasonably high number of protected and endangered species were also collected, thanks to colleagues from 9 National Park Directorates and 5 research institutes and universities. In addition, a number of individual collectors also contributed to this work. All collections were supervised by field botany experts resulting in a good ratio of excellent quality and quantity. 60% of collections contained the desired 5,000 seeds, 75% of them had 2,000 seeds and only 5% of the gathered seeds were contaminated or of low quality, thus not suitable for storing.

By the end of 2014, 42.7% of protected and 61.7% of endangered species of Hungarian flora had been collected.”


Bölöni J., Molnár Zs., Kun A. Biró M. (ed.) 2007. Általános Nemzeti Élőhely-osztályozási Rendszer. MTA ÖK ÖBI, Vácrátót.  URL:

Brown, A. H. D. and Marshall D. R. 1995. A basic sampling strategy: theory and practice. In Guarino, L., Ramanatha Rao, V., Reid, R. (eds.) 1995.  Collecting plant genetic diversity: Technical guidelines. IPGRI, Rome.

Jalas, al. (eds.) 1972-1999. Atlas Florae Europaeae – Distribution of vascular plants in Europe. Vol. I-XII. The Committee for Mapping the Flora of Europe and Societas Biologica Fennica Vanamo. Helsinki.

Király G., Virók V., Szmorad F., Molnár V. A. (eds.) 2009. Új Magyar Füvészkönyv
Kurtto, al. (eds.) 2004-2007. Atlas Florae Europaeae –Distribution of vascular plants in Europe. Vol. XIII-XIV. The Committee for Mapping the Flora of Europe and Societas Biologica Fennica Vanamo. Helsinki.

Schermann Sz. 1966. Magismeret I-II. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest.

Tutin T. G. et al. (eds.) 1964-1980. Flora Europaea I-V. Cambridge University Press.