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Seed Bank Success

With help from private landowners and more than 150 volunteers, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center seed collection program is ahead of schedule to bank seeds from 950 species by 2010.

Just in 2007, staff and volunteers collected seeds from 147 species. Since the Millennium Seed Bank project requires 10,000 to 20,000 seeds from each species, that means that a minimum of 1.4 million seeds were located, collected, cleaned and shipped to the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, United Kingdom.

The Wildflower Center is the first non-governmental organization asked to participate in the Millennium Seed Bank, a global project that seeks to bank for the future native plant seed species that play critical roles in the ecosystem, provide wildlife habitat, and contribute to water quality, flood management and soil stability. As global warming threatens entire plant populations, the work becomes more critical.

"Our volunteers give their time, their hearts and their passion - that's what makes this program so successful," said Flo Oxley, the Center's director of education and conservation. "They believe in this project, and they want to do their bit to help. And what they do is amazing."

"It's a tremendous amount of work, but we strongly feel that the return on the investment will far outweigh the work, the labor and the costs," Oxley said. "This project is so important because it provides a safe haven for natural resources that we're enjoying now for our grandchildren later on. This is the future we're talking about, and that's what we're doing, we're banking the future."

The Wildflower Center has collected and banked seeds from more than 300 plant species in Central and West Texas, and, thanks to a grant from the Houston Endowment, is collecting seeds in eight counties of exceptionally high plant diversity: Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Fort Bend, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller. Total species collected so far is more than 500.

Endangered or threatened species of concern are not this project's focus. Seed collectors are targeting species that play critical roles in the ecosystems, especially plants that provide medicinal value.

"Because we don't have enough information on species of concern, we don't want to do anything that might negatively impact the population," Oxley said. "If we leave out the most common species and collect the species of concern, we may accidentally put a seed population into extinction because we don't have enough baseline information to make a good judgment about them."

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