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From seeds great partnerships grow

On the occasion of the State Visit to the UK, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa joined the Earl of Wessex on a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew today to learn about the links that are helping science conservation efforts between the UK and South Africa.

They were welcomed by the Secretary of State of the Environment, the Rt Hon. Thérèse Coffey MP, and led on the tour by Kew Director, Richard Deverell, and the Chair of the Board of Trustees at RBG Kew, Dame Amelia Fawcett.

South African plants on display at Kew

On the visit, the guests were shown plants on display in Kew’s Temperate House, home to over 10,000 rare and endangered plants from around the world, including the temperate zones of South Africa.  Guided by Kew Horticultural students Sara Barnes and Muhammed Ismail Moosa, they saw succulent Karoo, Aloe species and Aloidendron. Another highlight was seeing the King Protea (South Africa National Flower), followed by the ‘Loneliest tree in the world’, a cycad Encephalartos woodii, and then the Leucospermum conocarpodendron, known as the Grey Tree Pincushion. The Leucospermum is an endemic South African flower and registered as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN owing to its decreasing population size in the Western Cape.

Seed Bank celebration,

The visit also offered an opportunity to mark the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute, SANBI, which goes back over 25 years. Scientists in both institutions have been working together to collect seeds and understand their properties, as a safety net in the event they go extinct in the wild, to support the restoration of habitats, and for breeding useful traits developed to survive in the wild.

Seed and art presentation

A South African National Seed Bank for Wild Species will open next year, and a transfer of duplicate seeds held at the MSB will begin. This is a landmark moment in the partnership. 

To mark this, Kew presented the President with the seeds of Leucospermum – now, safe in the SANBI National Seed Collection, available to support conservation efforts for this iconic South African species.

A print of the same plant, painted by the Victorian botanical artist and adventurer, Marianne North, in 1882 was also gifted to the President.

Science displays

The President was also introduced to students and staff from Kew Science to learn more about their work on the taxonomy of aloes and other succulents and how scientists are harnessing technology to end the illegal trade in succulent plants as part of wider efforts in biodiversity conservation

Wishing Tree for Nature

On their departure, The President and the Earl were invited to tie a wish onto Kew’s Wishing Tree for Nature. This is part of a wider activity on its Christmas light trails that Kew is running in the lead up to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 starting next month in Montreal.  The wishes invited the visitors to Protect Nature, Biodiversity, Plants, Fungi and Trees under the global hashtag #ForNature and they will be shared in with those attending the meeting in Canada.

There was also an opportunity for a brief but vibrant roundtable discussion about South African partnerships, the importance of organisations like Kew, training and skills, and solutions to the wider biodiversity crisis, including what is needed at the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 next month.

Photo Credit @ Jeff Eden, RBG Kew

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