Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Australian Botanic Garden

Seed longevity

Dr Amelia Martyn - Seed Research Officer, Dr Cathy Offord - Manager Horticultural Research

Seeds of many Australian species are expected to be long-lived in storage, with groups such as acacias, eucalypts, and casuarinas topping the list. The long lifespan expected for many Australian species is illustrated in NSW by a small batch of Acacia pycnantha seed originating from Australia’s first Arbor Day in 1890, where 80% of seed germinated in 1990 after 100 years of unsealed home storage.

Until recently, the longevity of seeds of many Australian species was unknown. Investigations of seed life span are a critical activity of scientists at the Australian PlantBank, in collaboration with scientists from the Australian Seed Bank Partnership using a ‘rapid ageing’ technique. These experiments aim to rank seed of different species from shortest to longest lived in a global context, to produce a ‘snapshot’ of seed life span in storage (Martyn, 2009).

Understanding seed longevity is useful for prioritising which species must be cleaned and stored first - a key task at the end of a busy collection season. The ranking will determine which species’ seeds are likely to survive for long periods in storage, help us set appropriate re-testing schedules for seeds in the PlantBank vault and work out which species will need to be regenerated or replenished regularly with fresh seed.

Further reading on seed longevity

  1. Crawford, A. D., Steadman, K.J., Plummer, J.A. Cochrane, A. and Probert, R.J. (2007) Analysis of seed-bank data confirms suitability of international seed-storage standards for the Australian flora. Australian Journal of Botany 55:18-29.
  2. Martyn A (2009) Seed longevity in Australian species: a collaborative study through the AuSCaR (Australian Seed Conservation and Research) network. Australasian Plant Conservation 17 (4): 9-10.
  3. Millennium Seed Bank ‘How long can seeds live?’ Click here to view.
  4. Offord, C.A., Mckensy, M.L., Cuneo, P.V. (2004). Critical review of threatened species collections in the NSW Seedbank: Implications for ex situ conservation of biodiversity.  Pacific Conservation Biology 10(4): 221-236.
  5. Probert RJ, Daws MI, Hay FR (2009) Ecological correlates of ex situ seed longevity: a comparative study on 195 species. Annals of Botany 104(1): 57-69.

Seed Research Officer, Dr Amelia Martyn removing seed germination tests from incubators at the Australian PlantBank. Photo: Simone Cottrell, Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust