Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Wattles - tough on earth and in space

Wattles planted on 5 June at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney survived either 114 years in poor storage or the rigours of space travel, proving they’re among the hardiest seeds on earth and maybe even the universe.

Environment Minister Rob Stokes said seeds from Australia’s national emblem, the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) spent six months in space on the International Space Station.

'NASA astronaut Dr Gregory Chamitoff took seeds with him on the Discovery Mission STS-124 in May 2008. They endured 2800 orbits of the earth and were subjected to microgravity and ionising radiation,' Mr Stokes said.

'NASA is interested in seeds that might be hardy enough to survive lengthy exposure to the space environment and germinate in greenhouses in space or on other planets.

'For us the trip into space demonstrates the importance of seedbanking as an insurance policy for our future. It’s vitally important we conserve our seeds for future needs - in particular wattle.

'Wattles are a key species in bush regeneration as they can help restore damaged eco-systems. They’re an important cover-crop which is planted first to protect other species to come through afterwards.

'Wattles are also great because they grow rapidly and improve soil conditions, adding nutrients and helping break up soil, making it easier for other plants to grow,' he said.

The other planting today is the blunt-leaf wattle (Acacia obtusata) successfully germinated from 114 year-old seeds by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. 

Mr Stokes said the seeds were likely to have been collected by Joseph Maiden an early Director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney for 28 years (from 1896).  

'The seeds were found by Botanic Garden staff in a vial dated 1899. They were kept in less than ideal conditions and survived through time,' he said.

'Wattles are hard-seeded and extremely well adapted to drought, fire and harsh environments. There are over 900 species of wattles in Australia and they survive in most environments (along with eucalypts).

'Understanding how they survive in all types of conditions helps scientists make the right decisions about their conservation and capacity to restore vegetation,' Mr Stokes said.


Planting the golden wattle 5 June 2014: L-R: Astronaut Dr Greg Chamitoff, Kim Ellis - Executive Director Sydney Parklands and Botanic Gardens, Rob Stokes - NSW Minister for the Environment

Recently germinated wattle seedlings in June 2009

Dr Chamitoff with seeds and seedlings June 2009