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Working together to help an extinct species

The State Botanical Collection, held in the National Herbarium of Victoria, is an irreplaceable resource of over 1.5 million dried specimens of plants, fungi and algae from Australia and many other countries. Many of the specimens and resources it contains are invaluable and one-of-a-kind.

But herbaria are not just a library of old materials from a bygone era. They play a vitally important, and often unexpected, role in many areas of society. Not just historically significant, the State Botanical Collection has other uses such as in biosecurity, medicine, cultural importance and of course, conservation.

The National Herbarium of Victoria also contains the Victorian Conservation Seedbank. An arm of the Millennium Seed Bank Project in the UK, it aim is to collect high-quality seeds from native plant species within Victoria for long-term storage, research and restoration programs.

The international project

In a recent international project with Montreal Botanical Garden, seeds from the Conservation Seedbank in Melbourne Gardens that had been kept for over 15 years were taken out of freeze storage. These were no ordinary seeds, but material taken from the Sophora toromiro or Toromiro tree, a species that became extinct on the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) after it was completely eradicated in the 1960s as a result of deforestation.

Now listed as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List, this species only persists only through the work of botanic gardens across the world.

40 seeds were sent to Montreal Botanical Garden to be grown as part of a wider education program to teach visitors about plant conservation and the vital role the botanic gardens play in the conservation process. Six young trees have now been successfully grown.

International resource sharing between botanic gardens is a common practice, and one that is encouraged as it allows botanical institutions worldwide to work together to protect all plant.

This example of cross-continental teamwork between botanic gardens demonstrates the vital importance of seedbanks and partnerships in the survival of endangered and extinct plant species.

See Toromiro trees in Melbourne Gardens

May botanic gardens grow Toromiro trees, but the more we grow, the more this species has hope of a brighter future.

Melbourne Gardens has 10 Toromiro trees which flower in October-November. This stunning tree has bright yellow flowers. Come down and find them for yourself, they’re hard to miss!

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