Oldest Viable Seed
There are several candidates for the oldest viable seed:
Carbon dated[edit source | editbeta]
- The oldest carbon-14-dated seed that has grown into a viable plant was Silene stenophylla (narrow-leafed campion), an Arctic flower native to Siberia. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed an age of 31,800 ±300 years for the seeds. In 2007, more than 600,000 frozen mature and immature seeds were found buried in 70 squirrel hibernation burrows 38 metres (125 ft) below the permafrost near the banks of the Kolyma River. Believed to have been buried by Arctic ground squirrels, the mature seeds had been damaged to prevent germination in the burrow, however, three of the immature seeds contained viable embryos. Scientists extracted the embryos and successfully germinated plants in vitro which grew, flowered and created viable seeds of their own. The shape of the flowers differed from that of modern S. stenophylla with the petals being longer and more widely spaced than modern versions of the plant. Seeds produced by the regenerated plants germinated at a 100% success rate, compared with 90% for modern plants. Calculations of the γ radiation dose accumulated by the seeds since burial gave a reading of 0.07 kGy, the highest maximal dose recorded for seeds that have remained viable.
- The oldest mature seed that has grown into a viable plant was a Judean date palm seed about 2,000 years old, recovered from excavations at Herod the Great's palace on Masada in Israel. It was germinated in 2005. (For more details refer to Judean date palm: Germination of 2000-year-old seed).
- The third oldest viable seed recorded is the carbon-14-dated 1,300-year-old sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), recovered from a dry lakebed in northeastern China in 1995.
Anecdotal[edit source | editbeta]
- In December, 2009, a Turkish newspaper reported a claim that a 4,000 year-old lentil had been successfully germinated. As of January, 2010, this has not been confirmed by radiocarbon dating, and does not appear to have been reported in an academic journal.
- The "1500 Year Old Cave Bean" is a variety of bean that have been alleged to descend from 3 beans found in a sealed clay pot during an excavation at an Anasazi settlement. The settlement appeared to date to the 6th century A.D., but the seeds were not carbon dated.
- There is a persistent myth that seeds from Egyptian tombs with ages of over 3,000 years were viable. The myth was reportedly started by scam artists selling "miracle seed" designed to capitalize on European Egyptomania of the 1800s. In 1897, the claims were tested by the British Museum's director of Egyptian antiquities, E. A. Wallis Budge. Budge provided genuine 3,000-year-old tomb-seeds to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to plant under controlled conditions. The test resulted in none germinating. In 1922 a pea found in Tutankhamen's tomb supposedly germinated and was soon introduced as a new variety, but historians and horticultural experts believe that the origin was a fraud and that the pea was actually bought from a vendor at a Cairo market.
- In 1954 an Arctic lupine seed (Lupinus arcticus), in glacial sediments believed to be 10,000 years old or older, was found in the Yukon Territory. The seed was germinated in 1966. New dating techniques revealed that the seeds were not 10,000 years old as believed.