Propagation of Rare Plants from Historic Seed Collections: Implications for Species Restoration and Herbarium Management



Herbaria are potentially important repositories of living seeds that could be useful for recovery of rare plant species. To examine this capacity, we tested seed germination of rare milkweed (Asclepias) and milkvetch (Astragalus) species representing different collection dates and different herbaria. These groups have contrasting seed characteristics, with greater potential for longevity in the nonpermeable hard-coated milkvetch seeds. Twelve-year-old Asclepias lanuginosa seeds failed to germinate. However, we achieved 45% germination from three-year-old Asclepias meadii seeds, but germination dropped to 0% after ages of four to five years. Astragalus neglectus seeds germinated from 97-, 48-, and 28-year-old herbarium specimens, and Astragalus tennesseensis seeds germinated from a four-year-old collection. Seedlings produced from these experiments were incorporated into ex situ garden populations for recovery or restoration of rare species populations. Different herbarium pest control techniques may have significant bearing on the viability of seeds stored on herbarium specimens. Microwaving can cause precipitous loss of seed viability, while deep-freezing appears to allow some seeds to remain viable. Potentially live seeds of rare species should be stored under conditions that enhance their long-term viability.