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Information & FAQs

The Australian PlantBank is a science and education facility of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and is located at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan. This impressive building houses the Trust's seedbank and research laboratories that specialise in conservation, restoration and horticultural research of Australian native plant species, particularly those from New South Wales. 

Visitors can immerse themselves in the workings of our scientists by seeing into the laboratories aided by award-winning interpretation which starts from the minute they enter the approach from the carpark. The experience is enhanced by downloading the PlantBank app. Children are particularly welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.

FAQs

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 Mount Annan. It houses the Trust's seedbank and research laboratories, specialising in the horticultural research into the conservation of NSW plant species.

Through partnerships with universities, other government land management agencies and NGO conservation agencies such as Greening Australia, the Australian PlantBank acts as a focal point for conservation research. It complements the functions of the National Herbarium of NSW and living plant collections.

How does the Australian PlantBank contribute to conservation?

New South Wales comprises many biogeographical regions, supporting over 6000 vascular plant taxa. However, continued pressure on the landscape for human use has altered the native vegetation, and there are now more than 600 threatened plant species and 81 ecological communities listed as threatened under NSW state legislation. The diversity of vegetation and the need to conserve what we can, provides the impetus for the Australian PlantBank to continue collecting and storing seed as an important aspect of plant conservation. The seed vault holds collections of both threatened and non-threatened native species.

Recognising the conservation role that ex situ seedbanking can provide, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation has a target of 75 per cent of threatened plant species in accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and that 20 per cent of them be included in recovery and restoration programs by 2020. Seed collection, storage and research are also strategies identified in the NSW Threatened Species Priorities Action Statement (Office of Environment and Heritage), to complement in situ (on-site) conservation measures. 

Why does the Australian PlantBank matter to the community?

We tend to take our Australian bush for granted, but what we have is unique, and our plants are the result of millions of years of evolution in a harsh and dynamic environment. The compounds and genes contained in plants have been on a unique journey through time, and could well yield important pharmaceuticals or chemical compounds that we are yet to explore. Some of our native plants are the wild relatives of crops which are cultivated for food and fibre. Plant breeders regularly use the genes in these wild relatives to improve vigour and disease resistance. 

In NSW we have an excellent network of national parks and conservation reserves, however with impacts such as climate change and sea level rises even national parks will not necessarily provide long term security for our native plant and animal diversity. Understanding our native plants is key to restoring and conserving plants on the brink, and key to using the seeds for future restoration of fauna habitats.

The Australian PlantBank provides a hub for science, conservation and education of our plants and environment. 

Why is it called the Australian PlantBank?

The Australian PlantBank brings together, under one roof, seed and living plant collections that form a resource for identification, research and restoration of Australian plants. The main function of the Australian PlantBank, through its science activities, is to document the biology of species through studies in the field, the laboratory and in cultivation. It enhances other conservation initiatives as it provides a unique function as the repository of regenerative material and the associated knowledge.

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.

Who built PlantBank?

The architectural design team was lead by BVN Donovan Hill and included landscape architects 360 Degrees, engineers AECOM and a team of sub-consultants. The construction was carried out by Hansen Yuncken and project management services were provided by Thinc Projects.

How big is the Australian PlantBank?

PlantBank consists of about 3000 m² of floor space (or the area of 2.5 Olympic swimming pools) made up of laboratories, the seed vault, a cryogenic store, meeting rooms, a library and office space for staff, as well as a large foyer for visitor engagement.

What is the timber veneer used in the building?

The veneer used throughout the building is <em>Eucalyptus regnans</em> or the mountain ash. <em>Eucalyptus regnans</em> is the largest flowering tree in the world. The veneer and backing material was sourced from Forestry Stewardship Certified approved suppliers.

How sustainable is the Plantbank 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 sustainability features include:
(a) Siting
The building has been sited to:

  • Encourage solar access in winter and minimise it during summer
  • Harness energy from natural air flow/movements and prevailing winds
  • Use of thermal modelling extensively to maximise these benefits.

(b) Design

  • The single storey negates the need for a lift
  • The overall layout has been designed to generate staff connectivity and engagement
  • The building has been designed to be ‘of the landscape’ rather than ‘on the landscape’.

(c) Materials
The materials used in construction of the building were selected after consideration of a range of factors including recycled content, whole of life cycle costs, maintenance properties, combustibility, and potential for recycling. The materials used include:

  • Concrete, steel and aluminium (with high recycled content, low maintenance properties and low combustibility)
  • Sustainable timbers (a renewable resource, sourced locally where possible)
  • Full length glass to allow light penetration and staff connection with the outside environment
  • Minimum use of products containing toxic VOCs, PCBs and PVC
  • Materials with low combustibility (to counteract the proximity to the woodland and the risk of bushfire attack), for example, stainless steel mesh has been placed over all opening windows to prevent the entry of embers.

(d) Form
Mass construction to moderate internal temperatures, especially floors and ceilings.

(e) Microclimate
The building’s orientation and form were designed to make the most of the local climate, including prevailing winds, seasonal and diurnal temperature ranges, wind speed and relative humidity.

(f) Heating Ventilation & Cooling (HVAC)
A labyrinth was installed underneath the building to provide passive thermal storage. The system is designed to reduce the peaks and troughs of extreme ambient weather by capturing the heat of the day or the cool of the night, retaining it in the surrounding concrete, earth and rock beds and then slowly releasing the thermal energy to help warm or cool the building (by as much as 7.6°C based on engineers models). The thermal labyrinth reduces HVAC load and extends natural ventilation, particularly during summer when fresh air pre-cooled overnight will circulate and force out warm air. In addition to this feature, the building was designed with:

  • Mixed mode ventilation in office, laboratory and work spaces for ambient comfort.
  • An indicator panel to inform occupants when HVAC/passive mode is appropriate and magnetic switches on each bank of louvers to prevent AC operating until windows are closed
  • Distinct grouping of mixed-mode and air-conditioned spaces
  • Controlled environments require specialised temperature, humidity and lighting and some lab spaces are slightly positively pressured to minimise insect entry to clean laboratory areas
  • High performance glazing to preserve ambient temperatures and minimise heat loss/build-up through windows
  • Shading of glazed facades to minimise glare and heat.

(g) Light

  • The design enables high levels of daylight to penetrate deep into the building to minimise artificial lighting required in certain areas
  • Automated control for power saving including many motion activated lights especially in the public areas.
  • Energy efficient illumination technology
  • Extensive use of skylights throughout occupied areas of the building to introduce natural daylight and minimise use of supplementary lighting.
  • Sun blades to reflect light, but not direct sun, into the building.

(h) Water

  • Rainwater harvesting 
  • Water re-use
  • Reduction of potable water use
  • Water efficient fixtures
  • Manual flush on urinals (conscious decision to not use waterless urinals as they require a high level of maintenance)

(i) Monitoring

  • BMCS - Building Management Control System - is in place to monitor utility usage and collect data from all facets of the building
  • monitoring, security, fire, temp, humidity, critical alarms etc. with a view to energy saving and informing preventative maintenance rather than activating only if critical failures occur
  • Energy saving devices using time controls and overrides.

(j) Fire protection zone

  • The landscape design provides a fire protection zone in the perimeter around the building
  • Materials have been selected for low fire risk

What is the history of the seedbank?

Seed collection and storage has been a function of the Royal Botanic Gardens since its establishment in 1816. The NSW Seedbank was established in 1986 as an integral part of the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, the Australian plant garden of the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust. The initial role of the Seedbank was to provide wild-collected seed for the development of the new Garden, particularly the Garden's major collections of wattles, eucalypts and plants in the family Proteaceae. These collections were generally in small quantity but covered a very wide range of species and localities.

Collections for the NSW Seedbank also supported a range of horticultural research projects, from plant breeding and horticultural development of flannel flowers and waratahs to highly specific conservation projects for threatened species such as the Wollemi pine. A major upgrade of the seedbank facility in 1999 and collaboration with the Millennium Seed Bank (UK) from 2003 has ensured that high quality seed collecting, processing and research is carried out for conservation and to support the ongoing development of the Australian Botanic Garden.

Who are our partners?

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.

Can I visit the Australian Plantbank?

The Australian PlantBank is not only a working science facility, but a learning centre for everyone. Visitors of all ages are welcome but children must be accompanied by an adult. School and holiday activities are available by arrangement.

Is there an app? 

Sure is. A self-guided trail smartphone app is available to give visitors insight into three sections of the PlantBank facility. Download the PlantBank App from Apple itunes or Google Play.

What can I see and do on my visit?

Visitors can self-guide and interpretation is available inside and outside the building.

  • Panels on the building introduce visitors to the incredible world of plants, and how the important conservation work of PlantBank staff relates to everyone.
  • Signage throughout the Living Laboratory garden beds helps visitors explore relationships between plants and fauna, people, science and the environment. 
  • Inside the building, images, text and multimedia demystify the work done by Trust scientists who can be seedn inside the laboratories and seedbank behind the glass walls.
  • The interactive Diversity Wall exhibition engages visitors through stunning images, historical scientific and cultural objects and text that bring stories and facts about plants to life.

What can I see inside the Australian Plantbank?

Self-guided or guided visitors can see the facilities that the scientists use including:
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 (guided tours only)
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.

What is the ‘Living laboratory’?

This garden is a collection of plant experiments, vital to the Australian PlantBank’s conservation research. Here we observe and study local wild plants. Many Australian plant species are just beginning their journey from wild habitat to suburban garden; others have the potential to provide food, textiles or medicines.

All the plants have been grown from seeds and cuttings, gathered from the surrounding Cumberland Plain Woodland. This critically endangered ecosystem is under threat from invasive species and the urbanisation of Western Sydney. 

How was the landscape designed?

The PlantBank landscape, designed by landscape architects 360 Degrees, has three main elements.

The first section, or 'woodland creep', adjacent to the critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland, brings together a continuous groundcover layer of native grasses (e.g.Themeda australisMicrolaena stipoides) and a dispersed shrub layer (e.g. Bursaria spinosaIndigofera australis and Dodonaea viscosa subsp cuneata), planted with a density that balances biomass with Bushfire and Asset Protection Zone (APZ) constraints. 

The second section, the entry 'cut' through the embankment, is a dramatic introduction to the building that engages and welcomes visitors and staff to the Australian PlantBank. 

The third section is the Living Laboratory or 'an abstracted woodland garden', a collection of plant experiments, vital to the Australian PlantBank’s conservation research. Here visitors and staff observe and study local wild plants

How many plants were planted in the landscape?

The Australian Botanic Garden nursery grew 25,000 plants for the PlantBank landscape. The plants were grown from seeds or cuttings, carefully harvested from the adjacent critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

How big is the PlantBank landscape?

By comparison to the Australian Botanic Garden’s 416 ha (1028 acres), the PlantBank landscape is quite small at just 0.6 ha (1.6 acres); however, the area needed to be rehabilitated from the subsoil up. Almost 1700 m3 of top soil was imported to ensure the plants would have suitable growing conditions. The soil was imported from a nearby industrial construction site that once also supported Cumberland Plain Woodland. The soil was rigorously tested for suitability before 

How many plants were planted in the landscape?

The Australian Botanic Garden nursery grew 25,000 plants for the PlantBank landscape. The plants were grown from seeds or cuttings, carefully harvested from the adjacent critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.    

What species are in the garden beds?

The understorey species are showcased in the landscape beds and include, Cheilanthes sieberi, Cheilanthes distans, Pellaea falcata, Poa labillardierei, Einadia nutans subsp.linifolia, Indigofera australis, Themeda australis, Plectranthus parviflorus, Ozothamnus diosmifolius, Hardenbergia violacea, Pimelea spicata, Goodenia hederacea, Chloris truncata, Scaevola albida, Sida corrugata, Eremophila debilis, Microlaena stipoides,Wahlenbergia stricta, Calotis lappulacea, Chloris ventricosa, Lomandra filiformis, Ajuga australis, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Mentha satureoides, Rubus parvifolius, Sorghum leiocladum, Rhodanthe anthemoides, Ranunculus lappaceus and Linum marginale.    

What is Cumberland Plain Woodland?

This vegetation community occurs only in western Sydney on the shale based clay soils. It is now listed both federally and at a state level as a critically endangered ecological community and is therefore legally protected from further reduction. The main threat to habitat loss is urban development. Remnant areas are also impacted by weed invasion, illegal dumping and fragmentation.

What is the lichen garden?

The rock garden is composed of 150 m2 of sandstone from the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney and Sydney Hospital.  With almost 200 years of history, each rock has a story. Here you can see the old walls, gate posts, statue plinths, coping stones and even a chimney flue from the two historic sites. The sandstone pieces were replaced over time as the stone eroded or was damaged, and the damaged pieces were placed in storage till a use could be found for them.

The rock garden isn’t just a sculpture or art installation; it is the ultimate recycling project.  It has taken a team of stone masons nearly six weeks to create.  Our scientists will be experimenting with different ways to encourage the growth of cryptograms a myriad of lichens, mosses and liverworts.

What is growing on the lichen garden?

Mosses are non-vascular land plants that are typically 1-10 cm high. There are over 12,000 species of moss. They do not produce flowers and produce spore capsules instead of fruits or seeds. 

Liverworts are also non-vascular land plants and are typically very small. Over 9000 species of liverworts exist.  Some produce a flattened leafless thallus but most produce leafy forms that look like a flattened moss.

Lichens are not one but two organisms - a fungus and either an alga or a photosynthetic bacterium - living together in a structure called a thallus. The thallus is created by the fungus growing around the algae and both organisms share resources. It’s estimated there are over 30,000 species of lichens worldwide.

How many plant species in the world, Australia and in New South Wales?

There are around 300, 000 plants species in the world. Eight to ten per cent of these occur in Australia. Scientists estimate that there are 25,000 to 30,000 species in Australia. The current number of recorded species in NSW is 5810. Globally, around 10 per cent of all plant species, and an astounding 30 per cent of gymnosperms are threatened with extinction. In NSW we have 611 species considered rare or endangered.

What proportion of Australian species are endemic (i.e. found nowhere else on the planet)?

Estimates suggest 85 per cent of Australia's flora is found nowhere else on the planet.

How many collections are in the Seedbank?

Currently there are 10,400 (July 2015)

How many seeds in the Seedbank?

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 species are represented in the Seedbank?

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

How many threatened species are stored in the Seedbank?

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. After drying to below 10 per cent moisture content, 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 long can seed last?

It depends. Species have their own natural life spans.  The process of drying and freezing can extend their life from a few years to tens or even hundreds of years. Some species cannot be stored and their seeds are only good for immediate growing.

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 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. Seeds with recalcitrant seeds may need to be grown as living plants in the garden, as tissue cultures or cryo-stored.

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.

Can I donate to the research and education programs?

You can donate online or by contacting Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens on (02) 9231 8182 or foundation.friends@rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au

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