Seed bank helps a rare plant close to extinction

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A plant made famous in the fairytale Rapunzel but now so rare it is almost impossible to find is being reintroduced with help from Ardingly’s Millennium Seed Bank.

The UK Native Seed Hub at the Wakehurst Place-based seed bank has partnered the Species Recovery Trust to restore 26 Spiked Rampion plants to the wild.

The woodland wildflower is described as ‘extremely rare’ and at ‘high risk’ of extinction in the UK.

It is now found at only nine sites, all in East Sussex, and is threatened by over-shading, often due to poor woodland management, as well as rabbit and deer grazing. Small clumps also mean reproduction is harder.

The 26 Spiked Rampion plants have been grown from seed stored at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and restored by the Species Recovery Trust to a site where only four plants were counted last year.

Trees have been removed to allow sunlight through the canopy and an enclosure was built around 14 of the reintroduced plants to protect them from deer and rabbits. Now they will be monitored closely to see if there is a significant impact on plant survival, compared with the other 12 plants which were planted without protection in an adjacent area of cleared woodland.

Stephanie Miles, UK collections coordinator at the Millennium Seed Bank said: “We have used our seed banking, germination and nursery expertise to produce these healthy plants ready for reintroduction.

“The ultimate aim is for these rare plants to thrive in self-sustaining populations, however we have the safeguard of a stock of seeds in the bank to create more plants if necessary.”

Spiked Rampion is also known as the Rapunzel plant after its appearance in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. Rapunzel’s mother had a craving for the plant and her husband stole one from an enchantress who retaliated by taking their daughter. Anyone craving a Spiked Rampion today would struggle even to find one.

The Species Recovery Trust said it hoped the reintroduction programme would help bring the plant back from the brink of extinction.




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