Madagascar seeds

Seed from Madagascar

A storm in 1685 brought, in a wind-tossed brigantine seeking haven in the port of Charles Town, the scant bushel of seed from Madagascar which became the source of the famous Carolina Gold rice. The story of rice growing from this period until 1911, when a storm destroyed rice planting in South Carolina is told here by one-time Governor Heyward who was a rice planter himself.

Originally published in 1937.

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Why seed-banking threatened species in Madagascar is vital

M adagascar has lost nearly a quarter of its forest cover since 2001. Slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and charcoal production have resulted in the large-scale clearing of ecosystems formed during the 88m years since the island separated from India.

Nearly all lemur species are now threatened with extinction, as is much of Madagascar’s biodiversity. Forest conservation and the development of sustainable sources of timber and charcoal, while reforesting large areas, are key challenges this century, especially for the millions of Malagasies whose livelihoods depend on them. As the planet heats, seed-banking threatened plant species has become an urgent task.

“Communities which live nearby depend on the forest for their survival. They find food, medicine, construction wood and water. The forest provides vital services like water catchment, pollution control, erosion protection and climate regulation,” says Vonona Randrianasolo, a researcher at Kew’s Madagascar conservation centre, who travels around Madagascar to collect seeds from threatened plant species. “Saving seeds is the best way to save many species from extinction. My actions are for future generations. I feel proud.”

Seed collecting in the east of Madagascar. Photograph: Vonona Randrianasolo

The samples collected by Randrianasolo are vital for reforesting areas of the country with disappearing native species that will be more resilient in a changing climate, conserved in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and at the Silo National des Graines Forestières (SNGF) in Madagascar. Rainforest stretches down the island’s east coast, while dry tropical forest is found on the west, with scattered patches of montane humid forest found in the central highlands. All areas contain unique biodiversity, much of which is understudied or not known to science.

“All the work thus far in seed biology, tree planting and forestry has been about commercial species so we’re really having to play catch up,” says Tim Pearce, who oversees the African programme of the Millennium Seed Bank, an underground collection of more than 2.4bn seeds overseen by Kew. “When Vonona goes out and makes a collection of seeds from a tree we have never seen, we first have to understand how to look after it. That has all been done for a very narrow range of commercial species. For pretty well all wild species, we are well behind the curve.”

Ring-tailed lemurs in the Isalo national park, Madagascar. Photograph: Yann Guichaoua-Photos/Getty

Many reforestation schemes around the world use fast-growing monocultures instead of native species, and Madagascar is no exception. In a country famous for its towering baobabs, eucalyptus and pine trees are becoming an increasingly common sight. The fast-growing species are important sources of fuel and timber for many Malagasies but can damage native biodiversity, threatening national parks such as Andasibe-Mantadia, where the rainforest is home to the biggest lemur in the world, the indri. Led by Madagascar’s own seed bank, the country is increasingly trying to reforest with native species, such as those collected in Kew seed-banking exercises.

“Pines are a big problem in Madagascar because they are very invasive. In the Itremo Massif protected area we manage in the high plateau, there are plantations on the border that are invading the natural forest,” says Hélène Ralimanana, the team manager at the Kew Madagascar conservation centre. “Eucalyptus plantations changes the soil condition. The areas around the trees become dry because they suck up the water.”

People collect seeds in the east of Madagascar. Photograph: Vonona Randrianasolo

For Ralimanana, the seed-banking work is about more than conservation and protecting Madagascar’s forest. Many of the eucalyptus and pine plantations were planted by French colonisers, a practice continued by the Malagasy government until a recent policy change. Documenting the country’s biodiversity and ensuring tree nurseries can grow native trees for reforestation projects will help undo some of the damage from the past.

“Many native species are slow growing. But it is believed that there is big damage from plantations in the French colonial period,” she adds.

RBG Kew is one of four charities supported by the Guardian and Observer 2021 climate justice charity appeal, which is aimed at helping communities at the sharp end of the climate crisis. The others are Global Greengrants Fund UK, Environmental Justice Foundation, and Practical Action.

Through RBG Kew’s work in Madagascar, a team of mainly Malagasy botanists, researchers and conservationists is working to document and preserve the country’s biodiversity, which will be crucial to improving resilience in a changing climate.

Money from Guardian and Observer readers could help expand community plant nurseries of collected and stored seeds, while also supporting a range of projects to revegetate land and make it productive, such as those already carried out in Madagascar’s seasonal forests.

“We need to put the native species back – that’s where they grow and do well, and how they maintain their environment. If you put something else in, over time, it can destroy the ecosystem,” says Jenny Williams, a senior spatial analyst at Kew who has overseen projects in Madagascar to restore fire-damaged forest areas with native plant species and prevent deforestation.

“These are the species that are designed to be in the ecosystem. If they are there, they can look after it.”

This article was amended on 1 January 2022. In a quote, Jenny Williams referred to putting back “native species”, not “invasive species” as an earlier version said.

Periwinkle, Madagascar (Catharanthus roseus), packet of 50 seeds

(Vinca rosea, Vinca) Evergreen perennial subshrub with widespread distribution in the tropics. Excellent choice for sandy areas needing stabilization. Makes masses of very pretty white or pink flowers. Traditional usage (TAM): stomach pain. Source of anticancer compound vincristine, used mainly in treating infant leukemia. Plant prefers full sun and fast-draining, even very sandy soils. The plants will flower in the first year. Sow in spring. Barely cover seed with soil, tamp securely, and keep warm, shaded and evenly moist. Germ in 2 weeks. Thin or transplant seedlings to 1 foot apart.
50 seeds/pkt., Open Pollinated, Untreated, NO GMO’s

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Sachin Apiah – March 20, 2020

Im interested in getting the Periwinkle, Madagascar (Catharanthus roseus), packet of 20 seeds, organic (https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/product/periwinkle-madagascar-catharanthus-roseus-packet-of-20-seeds-organic/) Do you still have them in stock?

How long do you suppose it would take to ship your product to the Bay Area, California (San Jose)?

Richo Cech – March 21, 2020

Hello Sachin,
Thanks for getting in touch with us. I checked the Madgagascar Periwinkle and as of 9:18 AM on 3/21/2020 there were still 9 packets in stock. Please feel free to order. At this point, seeds ordered today should be received in San Jose within 3 weeks.
Best regards,
Richo

PATRICIA C. – July 16, 2020

How would this plant be used to help with diabetes and high blood pressure?

Richo Cech – July 16, 2020

Hi Patricia,
American herbalists normally don’t use Madagascar Periwinkle–extracts are still used medically for treating infant leukemia and probably the plant is used in Africa and other locations where it grows naturally. In my botanizing in Africa i found witch doctors to be not particularly interested in this plant, although the local people liked the bright flowers. Herbalists often use plants like ashitaba, bitter melon and linden in treatment of metabolic disorder.
Richo

Poonam K – March 15, 2021

Hi can I get a sapling of Madagascar Periwinkle instead of seeds. I need it at San Mateo 94402

Richo Cech – March 15, 2021

Hello Poonam, We do have a flat of these but too few to list. The only way I can think of to get one to you is if you make an order for plants and put these words in the customer comments field at checkout: “please add one Madagascar periwinkle plant to this order and I authorize you to charge my card $15.00 extra for the plant.” BTW they are very nice.
Richo