Raising the Dead

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Science  04 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5749, pp. 773
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5749.773b

A modern drawing of Bromus by Omer Van De Kerckhove. Long thought extinct, a historically important Belgian grass has been resurrected from the vaults of a seed bank.

Earlier this year, David Aplin of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium was rummaging through the garden's collections in preparation for a meeting of the recently formed European Native Seed Conservation Network. He came upon long-forgotten packets of seeds from Bromus bromoideus—the “Brome of the Ardennes”—a grass species that had been wiped out in the wild 70 years ago.

Bromus is the only plant ever found to be unique to Belgium, where it flourished in the rolling, chalky meadows of the Ardennes. Its image was embossed on the cover of several 19th century books on Belgian flora. But changes in land tilling led to its disappearance. Botanists, more concerned with exotic varieties than native plants, “took their eye off the ball” and failed to keep the species going, Aplin says.

Now botanists have succeeded in getting the Bromus seeds to germinate, and there are little green shoots from them growing in both Belgium and England.

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