Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Seed Lab at the Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-Tha - Millennium Seed bank and Seeds for Life joint project

This post is an introduction to an important hub for the project and its Principal Seed Collector and Technologist since 2006  Jason Halford who can be found at the Seed Lab when not out in the field or working on freelance projects involved with managing and utilising resources in sustainable and environmentally sound ways.
The Millennium Seed bank Project project can be read about here at length and its local version Seeds for Life here on the Greening Australia website. A solid volunteer team has been associated with the project since its inception and in this way certain tasks in the Lab can be shared around a group of volunteers. I first became involved mid last year, once a week for a time... and then later in the year as well. The project fluctuates according to whether work is focused in the Lab, out in the field or due to  funding phases. The photo of Jason Halford below is from last year after a slight mishap with a sharp knife and a tricky seed pod if i recall properly.

above: seed sorting 

below: journal notes on one of the seeds being cleaned 

above: some visitors all the way from north QLD climbing out of the seed cases - aqua blue grubs

below: Jason Halford on the task of cleaning seeds from pods. Such labour intensive tasks lead to fascinating dialogue on related topics - an ideal moment to be schooled in practices of the Lab, fieldwork, biodiversity, how seed banks work, QLD specific issues around conservation and so on.

Working on the Acacia Midgeli from Iron Range, Cape York. This made a great subject for sketching.

Below: this vacuum separator known as an aspirator is a device used to separate the heavier seeds from the lighter processed plant waste (chaff).

Below: A rather sophisticated weighing machine that aids recording of data for project analysis methods.

Packaging seeds ready to send to Kew Gardens MSB and the Seeds for Life collection for QLD.

These seeds kept in the freezer form part of the Queensland collection where they are banked in a frozen state at around -22 deg C.

A recent day in the lab involved a very long, drawn out process of cleaning these seeds first by soaking for an extensive period before hand, then scraping the fleshy olive-like flesh off the seed ready for the next stages before it is added to the formal collection. Denise, an experienced volunteer with Greening Australia was also hard at work on these when I arrived for an afternoon session. It was almost 5pm when Jason was able to pull up his chair and call it a day after more than a day spent on this one seed cleaning job.
Once seeds are 'cleaned' and separated they are ready to be counted into a series of containers each with 50 seeds - (you will appreciate the smaller the seeds the more exacting the work) then they are weighed and various data recorded before being divided into the section for dispatch to the MSB and those that will be banked for the Qld collection.

Chionanthus ramiflora

As you can perhaps imagine this particular species required  persistence to process... one of the messier, more time consuming seeds to work with. However  Jason and others in his team speak of the degree of difficulty those with very fine fibres present - like discomfort on the lungs if precautions aren't taken. The stickiness of a capsule holding seeds or the poisonous nature of some also require degrees of persistance and care when handling. One learns to behold each individual specimen for their uniqueness - broad range in size, shape, composition and structure. An experienced eye would no doubt a list of other attributes that I am overlooking here. Seed viability - now that is something for another post altogether!

Jason Halford brings a very broad work profile and wide-ranging experience to this fascinating role at the Lab. Here is a breakdown of the range of tasks he performs in this work with MSB and Seeds for Life:

There are pages of notes I have made about this important conservation work including Governmental planning, funding, the collaborative bodies behind the initiative, the intiatives from the UK MBS organisation. It is as complex as it is fascinating, rewarding as it is to an outsider confounding in part.
I will add to this post in subsequent posts. Interviewing Jason Halford informally about his work out in the field brought forward extraordinary stories touching naturally on Indigenous Australians and their vast heritage, the gradual urbanisation of the land and numerous other topics - little is left unexamined. His work experience over many years as a Bush Regenerator, Gardener, Park Ranger, and formerly Landscaper and Draftperson, and his less known competence as a visual artist bring together an extraordinary wealth of experience with a considerable talent for observation, recording and documentation. Adept at seeing things simultaneously more deeply and more broadly through the lens of both scientist and artist is what makes him an excellent tutor for a visiting artist-in-residence who frequents the Lab when its operating.

I look forward to posting more on this - and following up also with stories on some of the wonderful volunteers also to be found at the Lab.

So you know I am not in jest when I refer to the natural artistic skills of Jason Halford here is one of the ink drawings I was delighted to photograph from the engaging porfolio he recently brought to the Lab. More soon on this too! 

From Rainbow beach: Xanthorrhoea Johnsonii

With sincere thanks to Jason Halford for agreeing to be interviewed and included in the Weblog documentation process this year. These dialogues and the Lab experience are effectively the foundation  for the residency in homage to the seed at the Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha! Conversations here spark off further lines of inquiry and lead to the Library, different planting sections of the Gardens to see various species in their growth cycles, to conversations with those working on the grounds, in education, in volunteering as guides and at the lab, and of course beyond the garden gates. One year is a very brief time when considering all that is there at one's feet -  a somewhat sobering fact countered by the rich opportunity it affords and the delight to be found in the process!


Altoon Sultan said...

A fascinating visit. It's great to know that there are people out there doing this important work. Thanks for the tour.

sophie munns said...

Thanks for visiting Altoon.
Its a project globally that seems to be leading to further success stories which I will attempt to document here this year.

em said...

haven't been to this blog for a while, and i have missed much. i hate cleaning seeds, and it seems there are machines that can do the work! so labor intensive!

Sophie Munns said...

Hello Em,
Lovely to have you visit over here - it is a deviation from my other eclectic blog!
...ah yes...cleaning seeds. Definitely a job for when there is company and conversation to be had to pass the time so you dont notice how long its keeping you.
Ah Ha...I am going to check with you if you have images of your seed cleaning exercises...your garden images are so beautiful!
Im going to be asking you about this Em!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sophie Munns said...

or Anonymous,
could you email me instead....I appreciate you writing for permission to use material.... however...I delete all anonymous posts in my email in-tray due to being sent spam this past 6 months.
It makes it difficult when the person is genuine as you could well be... but I think you will understand I find spam a bore and no-one visiting here would want to read it.

Thank you. The email address is on the sidebar near the top of the blog. 99% of the time I delete anonymous posts without seeing what they're about. Bloggers are a very open and courteous community ...so 'anon' is rarely used. So perhaps of you could declare your own site.... it would honour wise blogging protocol!


Anonymous said...


This is a inquiry for the webmaster/admin here at sophiemunns2010.blogspot.com.

Can I use part of the information from your post above if I give a backlink back to your site?


Sophie Munns said...

Fine for you to post from this Jules...
as long as it is clearly linked back to the source that works for me !

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