Just this past October, the seed from a pink, wild banana (Musa itinerans), originating from China, was dutifully cleaned, labeled and set into semi-permanent cold storage in the United Kingdom as part of the Millennium Seed Project. For many of us gardening enthusiasts, the idea of a banana seed being suspended in time feels like a lost opportunity for the present (even though growing a wild banana would be a huge undertaking in most of the continental United States). For many of us banana enthusiasts, we are pleasantly surprised and puzzled to find out bananas actually have seeds.
The significance of this particular seed is that it marks a considerable achievement for both the Millennium Seed Project, an international conservation project whose sole purpose is to provide an “insurance policy” against the extinction of plants in the wild, and the larger global effort to preserve biodiversity. With the interring of this unassuming wild banana seed, the Millennium Seed Project, launched in 2000, has succeeded in saving 10 percent of the world’s plant seeds (this came three months ahead of schedule) in their climate-change-and-apocalypse-proof seed vault. For most of us, the impact of this project will have little effect on us directly, but, like all insurance policies, there will come a time when our future generations will inevitably have to cash out.
The scope and ambition of this project serve to illustrate the power and fragility of seeds. Sure digging your hands in the earth, planting a few sprouts and nurturing them to harvest is intensely gratifying, but seeds…well, seeds are the fountainhead, and these little nuclei have been slipping through our fingers for far too long.