Meet: John Siemon, project manager, PlantBank
PlantBark is a seed bank and scientific facility with a priority to conserve and understand plants, and take that knowledge to the community. The facility covers 3000 square metres, that's the size of 2.5 Olympic swimming pools. Frozen seeds are kept in underground thermally efficient vaults.
PlantBank is a new research centre to be built over the next three years at Mount Annan Botanic Garden. What will it do?
It will be a seed bank and scientific facility with a priority to conserve and understand plants, and take that knowledge to the community. The facility will cover 3000 square metres, that’s the size of 2.5 Olympic swimming pools. Frozen seeds will be kept in underground thermally efficient vaults. And importantly the site facilities will be open to the pubic, so people can come in and see the scientist at work.
Is this a unique concept?
There are other seed banks in Australia but the only things similar to the PlantBank concept is the Millennium Seed Bank outside London and the facility at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Both of those also integrate the scientific community with the broader community. PlantBank is the whole package – science, conservation and education.
Why is it important?
In the Gardens we have either as seed or in the growing collection a quarter of Australia’s native flora. A major role of the facility is to understand that flora better. Some plants we know a lot about. As a metaphor you might say that on some plants we could fill an encyclopedia, but for some others we have so little information we’d be struggling to put a picture on the front cover of a book. We need to find out about all these plants, about how to store their seed, how to grow them and ultimately what we might do with them. It might be our children’s generation that finds the answer to those questions – that finds the plants that offer a replacement crop or a medical cure. We just don’t know what the benefits might be for future generations. That’s why I describe PlantBank as the ultimate insurance policy.
How many plants are under threat of extinction in Australia?
It’s hard to put a finger on it. Globally it’s thought that as many as one in two plants will be threatened with extinction in the wild in the next 50 years or so. In Australia we estimate it’s about 1 in 5. The major threat is from increasing population and climate change. Flood, fire and drought also contribute, and so do the lesser-known threats of weed invasion and imported pests and diseases, which are a real battle for our quarantine officers to keep out of the country.
What can members of the public do to contribute to PlantBank?
We are looking to the amazing community of plant-minded people to spread the word on PlantBank and plant conservation more generally.