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Atlanta Flora Project Joins Millennium Seed Bank

10 April 2006

From Jim Walsh for UNC News Services

UNC’s North Carolina Botanical Garden, a research and conservation garden, recently announced a partnership with the United Kingdom’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to preserve plants of the United States’ Piedmont ecoregion, which spans the states from Delaware to Alabama.

Bushy Bluestem seeds from North Carolina Botanical Garden 

 Bushy Bluestem seeds
from North Carolina Botanical Garden

Dubbed the Atlantic Flora Project, the partnership is part of an international plant conservation initiative led by Kew Gardens and known as the Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP). With partner institutions on nearly every continent, the MSBP is striving to collect and conserve 10 percent of the world’s seed-bearing plants. As a partner in the program, the North Carolina Botanical Garden will lead the southeastern portion of the North America program, titled the Atlantic Flora Project.

"We are thrilled to be joining an international network of premier botanical gardens and research institutions, all united to conserve botanical diversity and resources," said Dr. Peter White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden and biology professor at UNC. "We live in a time of growing concerns about the botanical diversity of our planet."

The budget for the southeastern arm of the Atlantic Flora Project is $58,000 per year for three years, and it will be funded jointly by Kew Gardens, the agribusiness company Syngenta Crop Protection and the nonprofit Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware. The garden will supply office and lab space in addition to overall supervision. The garden also will hire a seed bank project coordinator to oversee the project. Organizers expect the entire Atlantic Flora Project, which also includes states in the Northeast, to cost about $500,000 over three years.

"A mounting need for native plants for use in both landscape restoration and the green industry makes this project extremely timely," White said.

In North Carolina, the green industry (nursery, greenhouse, Christmas tree and turf grass industries) accounts for $1.2 billion in farm income, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. White said many of the species to come out of the Atlanta Flora Project are expected to find a place in the horticultural trade and habitat restoration industries.

The garden will collect seeds from about 250 species of native plants and study the propagation requirements of these species with help from the Mt. Cuba Center, various botanical gardens and native plant societies in surrounding states.

"It is great that the North Carolina Botanical Garden has joined the Seeds of Success program, working with other Plant Conservation Alliance cooperators to save and study seeds from the wonderful flora of the Southeast," said Michael Way, coordinator of the Americas projects for Royal Botanic Gardens.


Bushy Bluestem seeds from North Carolina Botanical Garden 

 Wild indigo seed pods.
Grown in the North Carolina Botanical Garden

The Seeds of Success program, coordinated by the Plant Conservation Alliance, was started in 2001 by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to develop source material for use by the ecological restoration community. It is now joined with the MSBP.

"This complements Millennium Seed Bank project partnerships in more than 20 countries currently working with us to conserve the diversity of wild plants for future generations," Way said.

The initial focus of the Atlantic Flora Project will be the Piedmont ecoregion, a broad area that runs parallel to coastal regions throughout the Southeast and is marked by geologic and climatic conditions that produce high plant diversity. About 50 ecosystems occur in the region, as do many major metropolitan areas (Atlanta; Charlotte; Greenville, S.C.; Richmond, Va.; the Triangle in North Carolina; and Washington, D.C.).

The collected and processed seeds from the Piedmont ecoregion will be stored in climate controlled seed banks at Kew Gardens, which are located south of London, and at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. Results of the project will be disseminated to the scientific, restoration and horticultural community.

White will oversee the administration of the Atlantic Flora Project; Dr. Johnny Randall, assistant director for conservation programs, will supervise the Piedmont Prairie Project (a special focus on prairie ecosystems in the Piedmont ecoregion); and Dr. Andrew Bell, associate garden director, will be the project coordinator.

The garden’s conservation programs received the Program Excellence Award from the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta in 2004, and the garden was one of the founding institutions of the Center for Plant Conservation in 1984. Garden officials manage more than 800 acres of land, including natural areas undergoing restoration and plant nursery areas.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is composed of display gardens, an information center (the Totten Center) and a number of natural areas that are open to the public. Visit for more information.

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