Magazine article Natural History

Frozen Assets

Magazine article Natural History

Frozen Assets

Article excerpt

The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) is a network of twenty-nine botanical gardens and arboretums in the United States that work to maintain and propagate some 550 species of imperiled pLants-approximately onequarter of the 2,000 plant species native to the United States that the CPC considers to be at risk of extinction. (Worldwide, 33,418 species, or 13.8 percent, of all vascular plants are imperiled, according to the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants, compiled by the World Conservation Union; as species-rich tropical areas are studied more systematically, the number is expected to rise.)

CPC member gardens safeguard plants as whole specimens, as rooted cuttings, and, increasingly, as seeds. Typically, a seed consists of an embryo (the miniature plant), endosperm (the embryos food reserve), and a protective covering called the seed coat. The earliest agriculturistseager to save seed both for eating and for future plantingsoon learned that some seeds survive storage better than others. The harder and more impermeabLe the seed coat, for example, the longer a seed may Last. (The longest-lived seed on record was a lotus seed from Manchuria, believed to be about seven hundred years old.) Conservationists are now benefiting from decades of agricuLtural research on maintaining seeds so that their germ plasm remains viable. A decade ago, the CPC joined forces with the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) in Fort Collins, Colorado, and today more than 15 million seeds of imperiled native plants are stored at Fort Collins as well as in CPC gardens. …

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