Preventing Extinction and Saving for the Future
From Field to Freezer
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Conservation Seed Bank is an insurance policy against extinction, providing a genetic backup for rare plant populations ranging from northern California to Baja California, Mexico. Our Rare Plant Conservation Team spends the spring and summer doing fieldwork searching for rare plants in need of protection across the state, eventually collecting seeds for long-term conservation storage. After the seeds are collected from wild plant populations, they are brought back to the Garden for processing and then dried to 35% relative humidity to slow down metabolic rates and prevent ice crystals from forming during freezing. The seeds are frozen at -4 Fahrenheit to put them into a cryogenic slumber until our scientists are ready to use them for restoration or research.
A portion of each seed collection is sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado, as a backup in case of a catastrophe.
The Conservation Seed Bank currently houses more than 2,000,000 seeds representing 288 different rare plant species across California and into Baja California.
The oldest collection in the Seed Bank is Nipomo lupine (Lupinus nipomensis), a small wildflower that grows in sand dunes, collected in 1985.
Patterson’s senecio (Senecio pattersonensis; CNPS 1B.3) was collected in rocky fell-fields near the summit of Mount Patterson in Mono County at 10,761 feet (3279.9 meters) and is the collection representing the highest elevation in the Seed Bank.
The Seed Bank Is a Living Collection
Small but Mighty
Despite their diminutive stature, seeds contain all the information necessary to produce entire plants, from the tiniest monkeyflower (such as Diplacus vandenbergensis) to the towering coast redwood (Sequioa sempervirens). Put simply, seeds are future plants that have not yet germinated. Thus, the Seed Bank is a living collection that requires long-term curation and stewardship.
Seeds are periodically removed from the seed bank and germinated to test their viability and determine when collections need to be replenished. Plants grown from these tests can be added to the Garden’s Living Collection for both the enjoyment of the public and the long-term conservation of these rare and important plant species.
Highlights of the Collection
California Rare Plants & Channel Island Endemics
Home to more than 6,500 different kinds of native plants, California is a biodiversity hotspot, and its biodiversity is unique and important on a global level. As a regional conservation hub, the Garden’s Rare Plant Conservation Team has brought dozens of rare plants into conservation seed collections for the first time. In many cases, the collections at the Garden represent the only inventory of these rare plants anywhere in the world.
California’s Channel Islands are a hotspot within a hotspot, with nearly 10% of the species on the islands living nowhere else in the world. The Garden is the official seed bank of Channel Islands National Park and engages with partners ranging from the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy to the U.S. Navy to bring rare plants of the Channel Islands into the Seed Bank, which is recognized as a regional seed bank by the Center for Plant Conservation.
Partnerships Across the State
The Garden is a founding member of California Plant Rescue (CaPR), a statewide collaboration between botanic gardens and other nonprofits to conserve California’s rare plants. The focus of the collaboration is securing rare plant diversity in conservation seed banks and living collections at botanic gardens, but the partners also engage in conservation and research activities that span from genes to ecosystems.
In 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown launched the California Biodiversity Initiative, aimed at securing the future of California’s natural biodiversity. The first budget item approved in that initiative was $3.6 million to leverage the expertise and infrastructure of CaPR member institutions to bring California’s rarest plants into conservation seed bank collections. This funding has allowed the Garden to expand our reach across the state and facilitated work from the Channel Islands to the Nevada border, bringing new rare plant species into conservation each year.
Secure the Future of California’s Rare Plants
Volunteer in our Seed Bank
Cleaning seeds is a meditative activity perfect for anyone looking to make an immediate impact on California plant conservation.
Meet the Team
Contact the Seed Bank
If you have a restoration project that includes rare plants, we may be able to help. Our seeds are meant to be used but must be requested by authorized parties with the proper permits.
Please contact our rare plant team with specific questions or requests related to the Seed Bank.