Episode 8

What a Seed Wants, What a Seed Needs

July 11, 2020

Seeds are incredible. Every towering coast redwood, every ancient oak tree, every golden poppy among millions in a superbloom began life as a seed. Within each seed is a blueprint for a plant’s entire life and the energy to kickstart that plant's unfolding story. In addition, seeds are imbued with an amazing array of adaptations - a bag of botanical tricks - to start life at just the right moment. True masochists, many seeds live by the mantra “no pain, no gain.” To trigger germination, some seeds need to be scraped up as they fall down a cliff; others need to be put through fire; some prefer to be eaten alive and others beg for frostbite-inducing temperatures. When the magic combination takes place:  eureka! the seed sprouts (germinates) and a new plant emerges.

California Botanic Garden is home to the California Seed Bank, the largest collection of seeds that are stored to safeguard the future for native plants. We have banked conservation seed collections of roughly one-third of all species native to California. We endeavor to collect seeds from every species to ensure the survival of our invaluable and absolutely irreplaceable flora. Part of the job of Cheryl Birker, Seed Conservation Program Manager, is to conduct germination trials to test the viability of seeds in storage. To do this, she has to figure out that perfect recipe, the perfect trick, to trigger plants to grow.

On this episode, we’ll learn about these germination trials and techniques  - from smoke water to “disturbance” - that Cheryl has implemented to get seeds growing as well as the fundamental purpose and incredible work that goes on at the California Seed Bank at California Botanic Garden.