Skip to content

Growing Flowers from 32,000-Year-Old Seeds

Narrow Leaf Campion. Image courtesy of iNaturalist

In the Arctic landscape of Northeastern Siberia, an arctic ground squirrel gathered some nuts and seeds in its burrow for safekeeping from wooly rhinoceros, mammoth, and bison in the area. Unfortunately for the ground squirrel, the burrow quickly filled with windblown earth, was buried under 125 feet of sediment, and has remained frozen since the last ice age.

I can’t help but think of the squirrel in the Ice Age movie series, incessantly hunting for a place to hide his acorn, setting off an unstoppable, global chain of events.

So much for a late-winter snack.

However, some 32,000 years later, the labor of the squirrel was not in vain. 

In 2012, scientists brought back plants from those ancient seeds.

The ancient squirrel burrows’ seed bank held more than 600,000 seeds and fruits, many of which come from a plant that resembles the modern narrow-leafed campion (Silene stenophylla). The squirrels stored their seeds near permafrost on purpose to keep their seeds cool through the arctic summers. This, plus the high levels of sucrose and phenols (natural antifreeze) in the plant’s placenta, contributed to the special conditions that have allowed the seeds to remain viable all this time.

Russian researchers were able to take tissue from these plant seeds and bring the plant back to life, propagating 36 plants. Except for their flowers, which have narrower and more splayed-out petals, the ancient plants looked identical to the modern-day campion.

Image: ThisIsEngineering

This scientific achievement surpasses earlier attempts to bring back extinct species of plants, including the Judean date palm from 2,000 years ago, which was resurrected back in 2005. 

These discoveries not only help us better understand the ways our planet and its species have changed over thousands of years; they open up possibilities for restoring lost biodiversity, discovering lost medicinal remedies, and providing insights into how species can develop resilience in a changing climate.

They also contribute to our understanding of how to best preserve seeds in modern-day seed vaults, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.

Sowing Seeds for a (Far) Future Harvest

If an ancient arctic ground squirrel can tuck away a few hundred thousand seeds for 32,000 years to contribute to the future of our planet, imagine what fruit the seeds of your efforts today could produce.

That squirrel knew just the right place to store his seeds for safekeeping. In the same way, the farmer in Jesus’ parable of the sower knew that seeds sown in good soil would produce a crop exponentially larger than what was planted. Jesus calls us to be sowers, to nurture ideas, behaviors, and actions that will lead to positive change.

We live in an era of incredible scientific and technological advancement, with ideas and innovations that could change the world for good. With wisdom and discernment, we can cultivate a better future for next generations by sowing good seeds, thinning out the seedlings, and nurturing the best ideas for the brightest way forward.

Even in our own backyards, sowing literal seeds in gardens and sowing figurative seeds of goodness, generosity, kindness, and compassion in our families.

There’s no contribution in the world that is too small to make a difference. You just don’t know what small act might change everything.

Share on Social

Back To Top