Documents: Regional Gardens (Canada) - West Coast:

30,000Year Old Seed Grown & Sweet Chestnut

Did you see the news item about the plant essentially grown from seed that was over 30,000 years old; and more about the Sweet Chestnut!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

March 4, 2012

Above, a Silene stenophylla—a pre-historic plant regenerated from 30,000-year-old plant tissue; below, a good example of Silene acaulis (Moss campion) which is in common cultivation now.

Not long ago, I noted while watching the TV News, a photo of Silene stenophylla that was taken of a plant produced (second generation) from placental tissue that had been located deep below the surface of the current tundra in northeastern Siberia. It was estimated to have been buried there for 32,000 thousand years!

Silene stenophylla is certainly not a well-known species however, there are several other species of Silene that are generally available in the nursery trade. For example, Silene acaulis (Moss campion) a mauve-flowered species is quite widely available, as is Silene acaulis ‘Alba’, a white flowered version whose flowers very much resemble those appearing on the newly discovered S. stenophylla.

Just two weeks ago I came across a far more detailed explanation of what transpired, in the scientific journal Nature, as written by Sharon Levy in the on-line edition on February 23, 2012.

Here is that item in its entirety.

“During the Ice Age, Earth’s northern reaches were covered by chilly, arid grasslands roamed by mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and long-horned bison. That ecosystem, known by palaeontologists as the mammoth steppe, vanished about 13,000 years ago. It has no modern counterpart.

“Yet one of its plants has reportedly been resurrected by a team of scientists who tapped a treasure trove of fruits and seeds, buried some 30,000 years ago by ground squirrels and preserved in the permafrost. The plant would be by far the most ancient ever revived; the previous record holder was a date palm grown from seeds roughly 2,000 years old.

“The squirrels’ burrows, 70 in all, were found on the banks of the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, 20–40 metres below the current surface of the tundra and surrounded by the bones of mammoths and other creatures. Some burrows contained hundreds of thousands of fruits and seeds, wonderfully preserved by the cold, dry environment.

“Researchers had previously attempted to grow plants from seeds found in these ancient burrows, including sedge, Arctic dock, alpine bearberry and the herbaceous plant Silene stenophylla. Those seeds did begin to germinate, but then faltered and died back.

“Tantalized, David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science in Pushchino decided to try a different approach (sadly, Gilichinsky passed away last week). He and his colleagues took samples of placental tissue from S. stenophylla fruits. The plant placenta-- an example of which is the white matter inside a bell pepper--gives rise to and holds the seeds. The tissue produced shoots when it was cultivated in vitro, and the scientists used these to propagate more plants. They are the oldest living multicellular organisms on Earth, the team says.

“The plants have already blossomed to produce fertile seeds, which were grown into a second generation of fer-tile plants. During propagation, the ancient form of the wild flower produced more buds but was slower to put out roots than modern S. stenophylla, which is found along the banks of the Kolyma. This suggests that the original has a distinct phenotype, adapted to the extreme environment of the Ice Age.

“‘I’m excited that someone has finally succeeded in doing this,’ says Grant Zazula of the Yukon Palaeontology Program in Whitehorse, [Yukon Territory] Canada, who has investigated previous claims of ancient seed germination. ‘There is a good chance that extinct plant species could now be brought back to life from permafrost-preserved seeds.’

“Although some members of the mammoth steppe ecosystem survive, no place on Earth currently holds the same combination of grasses, sedge and wild flowers that have been found in the mummified guts of Ice Age mammoths or in the frozen hoards of squirrels. Canadian Grant Zazula speculates that living plant tissue from much earlier--hundreds of thousands of years ago--might also be revived, revealing evolutionary change over a longer timescale, and helping scientists to understand the lost ecology of periods such as the Ice Age.” .

* * *

Back on October 16 last year, I wrote about growing sweet chestnuts on Vancouver Island in response to a question from Gill Blything who lives near Duncan about an hour south of us here in Parksville. You can find the entire item at: .

Now, I’ve had an update from him, and here is what he said, in case there might be others out there who had a similar question:

“Thanks for your reply Art, I now have eight nuts/seeds of the North American Sweet Chestnut chilling out in my fridge. I found them at ‘Twining Vine Garden’ from right here on the Island, and I send many thanks to Sandy (owner) who seems to know what we might need, many years ahead of our emails of request. I think she’s got a direct line to the ‘plant gods’

“In about a month I’ll be waking them up and willing them to grow. Sandy says they’ll announce their germination with a drum roll and a ‘TA DAA’! I’m sure that will be so. I’ll keep you posted.”

Incidentally, I did ask Gill is he knew just where on Vancouver Island the rare seeds supplier, ‘Twining Vine Garden’, is located. He responded that it was in Fanny Bay, just south of Courtenay and Comox. And, I should tell you, they are sold out of Sweet chestnut seeds at the current time, but you may wish to check out their Web-site: .    

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