Even giant trees begin their life as humble seeds.
Seeds – perfectly adapted packages containing all the requirements to kick-start a plant’s journey in the world – can be fussy. Although many will simply spring to life days after being sown, others are not so cooperative. For some species, including the critically endangered Perrier’s baobab, it takes true detective work to figure out the secret to successful germination.
This was the challenge that Madagasikara Voakajy (MV), long-time partner of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in Madagascar, embraced in 2016. Methods mimicking passage through an animal’s gut – including chipping away at the hard outer seed coat and soaking in acid – were trialled, with some success. But MV’s scientists found the best way to encourage germination of Perrier’s baobab seeds was giving them a hot bath in boiling water for precisely 16 seconds, which resulted in between 85 and 90% germination. The puzzle was solved.
Since then, MV has been supporting local communities to grow Perrier’s baobab plants for reintroduction – a vital approach given the species’ low seedling recruitment in the wild and dwindling number of adult trees. Land conversion to agriculture and gold mining have reduced the global population – confined to a handful of sites across northern Madagascar – to just 162 individual trees.