By Helen Roberts
Saving seeds in Svalbard
|Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway.
Photo credit: Amber Case [via Flickr CC licence]
Seed banks – facilities that specialise in collecting and storing seeds that society has deemed worthy of cultivation – are critical in preserving and potentially restoring the plants lost as a result of war. In 2015, researchers made the first ever withdrawal of 38,000 seed samples from such a bank in order to rebuild a seed collection to replace one lost to the conflict in Syria.
Russian scientists protect seeds with their lives
Plant-based resources in short supply
|One of the many ‘Dig for Victory’ posters
of the Second World War.
War also pushes the agricultural and manufacturing boundaries in the production of food and plant materials. One major commodity during the Second World War of vital importance was rubber. Natural rubber supplies from the plantations of Southeast Asia were severed at the start of the war and American forces were faced with the loss of a hugely important resource even though rubber had been stockpiled in the years preceding the war. With the fall of Singapore and the Dutch East Indies in 1942, rubber exports came to a complete standstill. The Americans invested heavily into developing synthetic rubber, but one of the twentieth century’s greatest ethnobotanists, Professor Richard Evans Schultes, was sent into the remote Amazon basin to hunt for wild rubber. For Schultes, this resulted in 12 years of exploratory research deep within the rainforest.
s during the Second World War – spurred by iconic posters emblazoned with the words ‘Dig for Victory’. A staggering 1.4 million people dug up their gardens and lawns to grow vegetables and fruit in Britain. It was similarly successful in the US – by May 1943, 100 acres of land in the Portland area of Oregon was being cultivated by just children!
Plants used to commemorate lives lost
During and after conflict, many plants can hold particular meanings for people. The flowers of certain plants are commonly seen as peaceful elements imbuing a sense of calm and many plants are closely associated with the recognition and commemoration of those who have fallen in wars. The red poppy is one of the most emotive and unforgettable flowers because of war. A symbol of remembrance and hope, and worn by millions of people to remember those who have fallen in battle. The idea of using the poppies stemmed from one of the world’s truly poignant poems, ‘In Flanders Fields’ and is now inextricably entwined with the memory or war. It represents a powerful symbol of our relationship with a plant during and after conflict.
Helen Roberts is a trained landscape architect with a background in plant sciences. She is a probationary member of the Garden Media Guild and a regular contributor to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden blog.
- Seed bank aims to protect world’s agricultural inheritance from Syria war. (2016). The Guardian. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/24/seed-bank-aims-to-protect-worlds-agricultural-inheritance-from-syria-war>
- ICARDA’s update on its seed retrival from Svalbard <http://www.icarda.org/update/icarda’s-seed-retrieval-mission-svalbard-seed-vault#sthash.5nrDjLb8.dpbs>
- Richard D. Bardgett. (2016). Earth Matters: How Soil Underlies Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Wade Davis. (1996). One River: Science, Adventure and Hallucinogenics in the Amazon Basin. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
- Kathy Willis & Carolyn Fry. (2014). Plants: From Roots to Riches. London: John Murray.