For a week now I have been accompanying a team from the Jardín Botánico Nacional and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank on a field trip to collect seed of plants endemic to Hispaniola for banking at the Jardín Botánico and Kew. I have been taking advantage of this trip to collect nettles but also to learn how to harvest and bank their seeds. The Greater Antilles which includes the Dominica Republic / Hispaniola is a centre for species diversity for nettles and most of the 100 or so species found here are found nowhere else. Given obvious pressure on the island’s forests both in the Dominican Republic as well as in Haiti, banking their seeds could support their reintroduction as a last ditch attempt to prevent their extinction.
The seed bank at Kew which banks the seeds of >50,000 species currently has only 14 sp of nettle which for me seemed a little on the low side given that there are about 2,000 species Worldwide. Support from the Bentham Moxon Trust is helping me to increase this figure significantly, both by enabling me to help develop seed-collecting protocols for nettles and so encourage seed banks to collect them, but also because I am learning from them how to collect seeds, something that I can do myself on future fieldwork in collaboration with other seed banks.
It might seem odd that collecting nettle seeds would be a challenge, except when you think that a typical fruit is 0.5-1.0 mm in size, barely visible to the naked eye, and that most fruiting clusters consist of a few mature fruit and many immature ones. This means that trying to collect 1,000-3,000 seeds, a typical accession, could involve many hours under the microscope with very fine tweezers and hundreds of fruit clusters! Our team consisted of Wilkin Encarnacíon, Teodoro Clase and Wiluien from the Botanic Gardens, Tiziana Ullian and Efisio Mattana from the Millennium Seed Bank and myself.