50 years ago, a 550-year-old seed sprouted

Since then, much older seeds have proved resilient

Silene stenophylla

OLD GROWTH  Fruit frozen for more than 30,000 years in a squirrel burrow in Siberia yielded this healthy, flowering plant in 2012.

S. Yashina et al/PNAS 2012

550-year-old seed sprouts — 

A seed of the South America herb achira (Canna sp.), taken from an ancient Indian necklace, has germinated, and the young plant is growing well.… Carbon-14 dating of bones at the site sets the seeds’ age at about 550 years.… The plant from the old seed appeared to have a disturbed gravity orientation, but is still growing fairly normally. — Science News, October 12, 1968.


Scientists continue to test plants’ staying power, growing plants from older and older seeds. A roughly 1,300-year-old lotus seed (SN: 8/31/02, p. 132) and then a 2,000-year-old date palm seed (SN: 7/5/08, p. 13) broke the record for world’s oldest viable seeds. Then in 2012, Russian scientists grew a plant from tissue frozen in Siberian permafrost more than 30,000 years ago (SN: 4/7/12, p. 15). These successes give hope to seed bank programs that keep plant species in cold storage for future generations.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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