Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Frequently Asked Questions - the Australian PlantBank

About the Australian PlantBank

What is it for?

The Australian PlantBank is a science and research facility for the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust located at the Australian Botanic Garden. It houses the Trust's seedbank and research laboratories, specialising in the horticultural research into the conservation of NSW plant species.

Why is it called the Australian PlantBank?

The new Australian PlantBank is more than just a rebuild of the NSW Seedbank. It incorporates other living plant conservation collections including the Australian Botanic Garden living collections such as tissue cultures and may extend one day to include fungi, fern spores and other potential regenerative entities.

The strength of the Australian PlantBank is that, like the National Herbarium of NSW, it will form a reference collection for identification, research and restoration. 

The main function of the Australian PlantBank, through its research activities, will be to document the biology of species through studies in the field, the laboratory and in cultivation. It will therefore enhance other conservation initiatives as it will provide a unique function as the repository of regenerative material and the associated knowledge.

Through partnerships with universities, other government land management agencies and NGO conservation agencies such as Greening Australia, the Australian PlantBank will act as a focal point for conservation research. It will therefore complement the functions of the Herbarium and living plant collections and will give greater service to native plant conservation by our organisation.

How was it funded?

The building cost $19.8 million with the NSW state government contributing $15.5 million and $4.25 million being generously donated by the Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens, the Ian Potter Foundation, HSBC Bank Australia, BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal, TransGrid, and many other donors. The Donor Recognition Wall within PlantBank¡¦s Telopea Gallery recognises a range of generous contributions and is made of timber veneers.

Where does the Australian PlantBank's funding come from?

The Australian PlantBank has an operational budget from the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. The Australian PlantBank's research programs rely on significant funding from grants and foundations to enable scientists to undertake their scientific research.

Can I make a donation to the scientific research?

You can donate online or by contacting Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens on (02) 9231 8182 or

Does the Australian PlantBank have any partnerships?

The Australian PlantBank has relationships with most universities in the Sydney area. We also have a strategic relationship with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, an Australian network of native seed conservation seed banking and research. In addition we have a strong relationship with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's (United Kingdom) Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) which has a global partnership of 80 entities. The MSB is also the place where the Australian PlantBank backs up its collections with half of all our seed being banked at the MSB since 2002.

About the science work

How many collections are in the Seed Vault?

Currently there are 10,035 (July 2013)

How many seeds in the Seed Vault?

We estimate there are over 100,000,000 in the Seed Vault. One seed packet alone, of Juncus bufonius, a small toad rush that grows in moist and muddy places, holds over 2.3 million seeds and several of our orchid collections, including Cymbidium suave, an epiphytic snake orchid, may hold as many as 10 million seeds. Some plants are so rare that we only have a few seeds of some species.

How many plant species in Australia and in New South Wales?

Over 25,000 species in Australia and 5810 in NSW. In NSW alone we have 611 species considered rare or endangered.

What proportion of Australian species are endemic (i.e. found no where else on the planet)?

Estimates suggest 85 per cent of Australia's flora is found no where else on the planet.

How many species are represented in the Seed Vault?

4669 species are currently represented in the Seed Vault, of which 2538 (44%) are from NSW.

How many threatened species are stored in the Seed Vault?

There are 611 species listed in NSW as threatened or endangered and 260 (44%) are represented in the vault. There are 1310 plant species listed as threatened or endangered on the federal list.

Where and how are the seeds stored?

Seeds are stored under various conditions. At 2-4ºC for short term requirements, at -18-20ºC for long term storage and between -180 and -196ºC in cryogenic storage for species with special requirements. The seeds are vacuum sealed in aluminium foil packets and housed in walk-in cold rooms. These cold rooms have thick insulation panels surrounded by a concrete shell to thermally insulate and protect the whole collection.

How big is the Seed Vault?

The Seed Vault has been built in stages so we only refrigerate those sections required. On opening the Seed Vault has 76 m3 of storage expandable to 190 m3 as the seed collection grows.

Are we storing native and non-native seeds?

The primary focus of the Australian PlantBank is to provide a national repository for Australian native plant species. The Seed Vault will initially house the NSW Government's collection of native plant seed expanding over time to hold duplicate collections of interstate and international partner's seeds.

What plants do we think need to be 'banked' first and why?

Those species that are listed as threatened and or endangered are our highest priority - we work with our colleagues in the Office of Environment & Heritage and National Parks and Wildlife Service targeting those species first and foremost. We also target those species being affected or potentially affected by a threatening process - such as species likely to be affected by myrtle rust and Phytophthora and those vegetation groups affected by land clearing or climate change - i.e. rainforests.

What is tissue culture?

Tissue culture or micro-propagation is the multiplication of plant tissues in the laboratory. Sterile stem sections are placed on agar medium containing growth nutrients and placed at 23ºC under lights to encourage rapid growth and shoot proliferation. Every 6-8 weeks the stems can be divided to produce double or triple the number of plantlets. These can then be placed in a nursery propagation house to produce roots and become established as whole plants. It is a process that can produce many plants of exactly the same genetic material or clones.

What is cryogenic (cryo) storage?

This is storage in liquid nitrogen at temperatures between -180 and -196ºC (or in vapour at -190ºC). It is suitable for tissue samples as well as seeds but requires special preparation of tissues to make this possible.

What is the difference between orthodox and recalcitrant seeds?

Orthodox or desiccation tolerant species can be dried to low moisture content and stored for long periods at cold temperatures (-20ºC). Recalcitrant species are desiccation sensitive and do not tolerate drying to low moisture content and are therefore unable to be stored at -20ºC.

What are the scientists doing in the laboratories?

  • Physiology Laboratory (the Plant Lab)
    This area is used for the study of whole plants and soils. It allows staff to conduct experiments on, for example, potting mixes as well as studying plant interactions with the environment.
  • Seed Testing Laboratory
    This area is for the preparation and examination of seeds for viability, longevity and routine testing of seeds before and after cold storage.
  • Seed Processing Room
    Staff process newly collected plant material to separate out the seeds before the material is dried to low moisture content and can be stored. In combination with the seed testing laboratory this cleaning process helps to ensure only seed of high quality is banked in the seed vault.
  • Microscopy Room
    Many seeds are small and the microscopes housed here aid in the testing and image collection of these objects. There is also an x-ray machine that allows staff to see inside seeds to assess seed quality and viability.
  • Germination Room and Walk-in Incubators
    The cabinets in here can be set to various temperatures to allow seeds to germinate under optimal conditions. The two walk-in incubators are set at the most commonly used temperatures to allow for a large number of tests to be carried out simultaneously.
  • Drying Room
    Freshly collected seeds are placed here at 15% RH (relative humidity) and 15ºC to reduce the moisture content of the seeds so they can be stored for the long term in cold storage. Seeds can stay in this room for weeks or months at a time before they are considered dry enough to package and store at cold temperatures.
  • Seed Vaults
    There are two storage conditions in the seed vault. One is set at 4ºC for short term storage and the other is -18ºC for long term storage. These are the same temperatures a domestic fridge or freezer operates at.
  • Cryo Storage Room
    Seeds and plant tissues are stored in stainless steel vessels containing liquid nitrogen at between -180ºC and -196ºC.
  • Tissue Culture Laboratory
    The space is used for the preparation of media for growing tissue culture plants.
  • Laminar Flow Room
    Laminar flow cabinets are used for the sterile dissection of plant material during tissue culture. The cabinets provide a hospital operating theatre-like environment which allows material to be handled in an aseptic or sterile manner.
  • Plant Growth Room
    The tissue culture bottles are housed here on stainless steel benches with over-bench lighting. The room is maintained at about 23ºC with lights on for 16 hours and in the dark for 8 hours.

How many scientists work in the Australian PlantBank?

Around 15 staff currently work in the Australian PlantBank. Over time this number will grow considerably, particularly in undergraduate and postgraduate research.

About the landscape

What was once on the site where the Australian PlantBank now stands?

Immediately prior to construction the area was a mixture of bulk store, storage and nursery facilities. Construction has returned green space to the Australian Botanic Garden following an extensive rehabilitation program. Over time the landscape will blend in to the surrounding critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

How many plants were planted in the landscape?

The Australian Botanic Garden nursery has grown 25,000 plants sourced from cuttings and seed material carefully harvested from the adjacent critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

About the building

The architect has designed a very sustainable building from the ground up with the design focused on energy efficiency to minimise utility consumption. The design brief was to:

  • Minimise the use of non-renewable energy sources
  • Minimise the use of non-renewable water sources via water harvesting, re-use and efficient fixtures
  • Use products made from sustainable components or recycled materials
  • Select materials that have low maintenance requirements considering whole of life costs; and
  • Use materials with low combustibility to address the risk of bush fire from adjacent critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.





Pouring a concrete slab at PlantBank.

PlantBank arises from the earth at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan - June 2012

Photos - John Siemon



Corymbia eximia
Fruit of Corymbia eximia

Leah in freezer
Seed collections stored in foil packets in the freezer