Growing hope: the city ‘seed bank’ protecting SA’s botanical future

Sustainable City People of Adelaide At Work

“From little things big things grow” – Paul Kelly

Like me, you might be surprised to learn that one of South Australia’s richest biodiversity sites is located not just within Adelaide’s city limits, but inside a building that’s well over a century old. The South Australian Seed Conservation Centre occupies the top floor of the historic Goodman Building on Hackney Road at Adelaide Botanic Garden and over 200 million seeds have been collected and stored here since it opened in 2002.

More colloquially known as SA’s ‘seed bank’, the SA Seed Conservation Centre is part of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia - and it plays a vital role in future-proofing the unique natural landscapes for which South Australia is renowned. 

Seed collecting in mamungari cp


The native plants that help shape those landscapes and form an integral part of South Australia’s ecosystems - need protection. Habitat loss, competition from introduced species and other factors has placed one in four native SA plant species under threat - which is why collecting and protecting the seeds of endangered flora is so important.

Experienced staff at the SA Seed Conservation Centre, along with a team of incredible volunteers, regularly head into the field to collect wild provenance seeds from across the state. These are then deposited into the city-based ‘seed bank’ where they’re stored at subzero temperatures and can be studied by seed scientists.

“The aim of the SA Seed Conservation Centre is to bank populations of our threatened flora in the short term whilst they still exist- so we’re trying to capture the biodiversity of those species we think are at risk in the short to medium term,” said Dan Duval, Senior Seed Collection Officer.

“We’ve banked about 80 per cent of our state’s threatened flora at this stage, including multiple populations where they exist, and we’re hoping to bank up to about 90 per cent of our threatened flora by about 2025.”
Dan Duvall, Senior Seed Collection Officer, SA Seed Conservation Centre

Research is a huge part of the work of the SA Seed Conservation Centre because, to be able to use native seeds for future restoration, you need to understand what specific environmental cues trigger germination in different species.

“The seeds from each species of plants will have evolved to disperse and to germinate, and have different dormancy mechanisms - they’re so unique,” said Dr Jenny Guerin, Seed Research Officer at the SA Seed Conservation Centre.

Stylidium tepperianum pja82 seeds
Cheiranthera volubilis djd3300 seeds

“They’re reacting with the environment, they’re sensing temperature, light - they’re sensing moisture, they’re detecting chemicals in bushfire smoke and they’re actually detecting seasonal changes in their environment - waiting for a specific cue for them to germinate.”

Seed collecting
photo-icon South Australian Seed Conservation Centre

Dan Duval (Senior Seed Collection Officer, South Australian Seed Conservation Centre) collecting seeds.

One place in SA where the seeds are currently sprouting in scores is on Kangaroo Island. This wild and beautiful botanical world, so recently ravaged by bushfires, is currently experiencing a period of intense natural growth - presenting an extraordinary but extremely short-lived opportunity for seed scientists.

“In the aftermath of KI’s recent catastrophic bushfires, many plants that ordinarily compete for growing space have, for the first time in many years, the opportunity to re-sprout and set seed in the scorched earth,” said Professor Michelle Waycott, Chief Botanist at the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia.

“Our specialist seed scientists know which endangered species are making the most of this new environment and where they are growing. It is imperative our seed conservation team, along with volunteers and other specialists from across the state, commence work as soon as possible.”
Professor Michelle Waycott, Chief Botanist, Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia

Each year, the Adelaide Botanic Gardens Foundation raises funds for specific projects and in 2020, helping secure the botanic future of KI is its cause. Funds raised through this year’s Annual Appeal will finance a series of field trips to KI to locate some of the island’s most unique and endangered plants, collect their seeds, and bring them back to the ‘seed bank’.

Stylidium tepperianum plant denzel murfet kangaroo island
Caladenia ovata f denzel murfet deep creek cp
Cheiranthera volubilis flower scotts cove ki 2 crop

Left to Right: Tepper's Trigger Plant - Stylidium tepperianum, Ovate Spider Orchid - Caladenia ovata and Twining Finger Flower - Cheiranthera volubilis.

There are three species on KI that the seed collection teams will be intent on locating and that’s the Tepper's Trigger Plant (Stylidium tepperianum), Ovate Spider Orchid (Caladenia ovata), and Twining Finger Flower (Cheiranthera volubilis). Each of these threatened species is known to forge new populations on fire-scarred land and their seeds can be readily collected.

The 2020 Adelaide Botanic Gardens Foundation Annual Appeal runs throughout  June and the first field trips are expected to take place within the next few months. 

SA Seed Conservation Centre seed scientist Dan Duval was featured on ABC TV's Gardening Australia program on Friday 29 May 2020. Watch the video below to discover more about the SA Seed Conservation Centre and why seed collecting and banking is such a crucial activity.

Article by

Skye Murtagh

Skye Murtagh

Skye is Adelaide Living's main driving force. She is passionate about sharing stories from all walks of life. When she's not busy weaving beautiful words together, she's singing a line or two from her favourite song.