A Noah’s Ark for plants in the heart of Sussex
In the heart of rural Sussex lies a treasure trove of scientific excellence. Nestled within 535 acres of biodiverse landscape, the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst houses an underground collection of over 2.4 billion seeds from around the world, banking them to conserve for the future.
By storing seeds away from their natural habitat and supporting seed banks in countries around the globe, the Millennium Seed Bank is a ‘Noah’s Ark for plants’, home to some of the world’s most threatened species. Scientists carry out seed collections across the globe, from extreme habitats to more familiar landscapes. Seeds are stored in the country where they were collected, and a part of the collection is also sent to the Millennium Seed Bank for safekeeping. Comparable to a real bank, countries can withdraw seed collections to encourage growth in threatened or damaged habitats, bringing lost species back to life.
Sowing the first layer of Wakehurst’s American Prairie. Jim Holden © RBG Kew
Behind the scenes at the Millennium Seed Bank, experts study the viability of the seeds, germinating them in the labs, reintroducing plants back into the wild or using them for scientific research.
At Wakehurst, seeds which were hand-collected from native prairies of North America were brought to the Seed Bank to be mixed into a perfect blend to create Wakehurst’s very own American Prairie. With 1% of these diverse ecosystems remaining, the prairie at Wakehurst highlights the importance of these threatened habitats and serves as a reminder of the importance of biodiversity. Whilst some seeds were hand sown across the six-acre landscape, others were nurtured in the Millennium Seed Bank nursery to be planted a year later.
Wakehurst Millennium Seed Bank. Jim Holden © RBG Kew
For visitors, the Millennium Seed Bank is a window into the ground-breaking research taking place at the Sussex site. Stepping into the glass atrium, visitors can watch scientists at work in the laboratories and track the journey of a seed from delivery to banking in sub-zero vaults.
Also housed in the Millennium Seed Bank’s atrium, the Surviving or Thriving exhibition brings Kew’s State of the World’s Plants reports to life, a pioneering look into the vital roles of plants and fungi in everyday life. The exhibition is free and is included with entry to the gardens.
Wakehurst MSB Aerial View, Visual Air. © RBG Kew
Wakehurst MSB Exhibition, © RBG Kew