Into the canopy in search of seeds

Our contribution to The Millennium Seed Bank is growing, as we took to the canopy in search of some hard-to-reach Scots pine cones…

When the sun is shining, what better way to enjoy the day than to spend time in the lofty heights of a Scots pine tree? That’s exactly what some tree climbers at Dundreggan were doing this week in an attempt to cache a nice bounty of cones for our latest contribution to the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank. Sounds relatively straight forward, right? But when you need 10,000 seeds that are sitting snugly in their cones fifty feet up in the air, you can understand that this is no mean feat!

Scots pine cones are usually only found high up in the tree’s canopy, making seed collection that extra bit challenging. There is always the option to collect seed from the ground, but this can be even more challenging as the seeds will have usually been carried far by the wind! Cue the tree climbers…

Using all of the recommended safety gear, our climbers took no time at all in getting into the upper most reaches of our chosen trees. Scots pine cones take two years to reach maturity, so there are often cones of different ages on the tree at the same time. We were after the mature cones, identifiable by their grey-brown colour. At this point in the year, none of the cones should be open, and still have their seeds safely encased inside. Each scale on the cone contains 2 seeds, and it’s not unusual for cones to have as many as 50 scales, meaning a possibility of 100 seeds per cone. Of course, not all of these seeds will be viable, but having collected an incredible 15kg of cones, we knew we were very likely to meet the 10,000 seed target.

Once the cones were brought down it was a simple matter of encouraging them to release their seeds to us by allowing them to dry out. All of the seeds collected will be heading down to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and will contribute to the Millennium Seed Bank.

More information about Trees for Life’s involvement with the Millennium Seed Bank:

  • The UK National Tree Seed Project was launched in 2013 and seeks to make seed collections available for researchers working on challenges facing UK woodlands and forestry such as pests and diseases and climate change.
  • The UK is split up into 24 different seed zones and we have agreed to collect from a variety of native trees and shrubs in seed Zone 105 in the northwest Highlands of Scotland.
  • The seed collecting requirements are very strict to ensure that each collection meets the high standard set by Kew. Each collection must have a minimum of 10,000 healthy seeds, without taking more than 20% of available seed, from at least 15 individual plants or trees within the same population.