— by Jessica B. Turner, PhD candidate, West Virginia University
Mary, Mary, quite contrary…how does your garden’s plant diversity grow? As we recently explored in Myth form, preserving seeds is critical to ensuring we don’t lose entire species to threats like disease spread and climate change. Seeds are super cool when you think about it—especially when you can actually visit the gardens and arboretums that house seed banks.
What makes seeds so cool? Christina Walters, a researcher leader at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, says that most people think of seeds as little rocks, and not as plants. But guess what: “Seeds are the perfect experimental material. There are a lot of secrets that no one really explores.”
There’s no better way to explore the world of seeds than to visit, become a member, or volunteer at, a botanical garden or arboretum. Institutions across the country and around the world are doing extensive work behind the scenes to protect biodiversity. Often times, they have seed banks, or they share genetic material with other gardens as a way to promote conservation.
Ready, Set, Visit Your Closest Garden Now!
Yep, you can support great environmental work while reveling in botanical beauty, too. From the East Coast to the West, we rounded up seven of our fave seed-saving gardens and arboretums across the country:
Eastside: Not a seed bank per se, the New York Botanical Garden’s DNA Bank work is a vital piece in the preservation puzzle. This centralized repository of frozen plant, algal, and fungal tissue and extracted DNA is a huge boon to plant diversity research. Plus, with a dizzying variety of gardens and collections spanning 250 acres, the endless array of plants and flowers is a gorgeous place to spend the day.
The South: In South Florida, the Montgomery Botanical Center is advancing science through researching the best ways to care for rare and endangered plants. Not only do they have an amazing collection of endangered species on site, but they also emphasize collecting wild samples and plant research. Check out the cool work they did for the critically endangered species, the Palma Corcho. Because of their work, fewer of these seeds are being harvested in the wild, while more of these rare plants are being cultivated.
The Great Lakes: The Chicago Botanic Garden is a beautiful marriage of gorgeous gardens and science. Home to the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank, they are one of a handful of gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. Also in Illinois, the Morton Arboretum is a powerhouse of conservation. While they have over 200 oak species, they are constantly working with other institutions to share genetic material and research. Learn about any oaks specimen that the arboretum has with their extensive online database.
The Midwest: The Missouri Botanical Garden recently established a seed bank at the Shaw Nature Reserve. By the end of 2013 the facility had already secured 276 wild-sourced plants, supporting its awesome mission to collect and store the entire Missouri eco-regional flora. Seed banking coolness aside, there’s also a host of family-friendly experiences, from the butterfly house to an annual firefly festival.
The West: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s seed bank boasts more than 4,200 varieties of plants, representing more than 1,800 California native plant species. It’s considered by the State of California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be the principle repository for germplasm collections of rare, threatened and endangered California native plant species. Outside the bank walls, it’s native plant central, which makes it a haven for butterflies, birds, and nature-loving photographers.
Across the pond: The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is responsible for the Millennium Seed Bank, arguably the most famous seed bank in Europe, and proud home to 13 percent of the world’s plant diversity (wild plant species: 34,088; total number of seeds: 1,980,405,036). They have an excellent video about the how important seed banks are/how they work, and you can even adopt a seed to help the cause.
So there you have it—awe-inspiring seed preservation work is going down all over the place. Do yourself a favor (and all of us, for that matter) by supporting a botanic garden in your area with an in-person visit!