Singapore will have its first seed bank next year, storing seeds of up to 25,000 plant species, in an effort to protect threatened plant species from South-east Asia.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens Seed Bank will be set up by the National Parks Board (NParks) in House 4, the largest of the five colonial-style houses within the former Raffles College.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who announced the initiative yesterday, said that seed banking is a form of insurance for plant biodiversity.
"It ensures that seeds will be available in future for research and restoration projects," he said, adding that it will enable the Botanic Gardens to support species reintroduction efforts throughout the region.
"The biodiversity of ecosystems around the world is diminishing at an unprecedented rate, which means that decades from now, some of the plant species that we are familiar with today may not even be available," said Mr Wong.
He was speaking at the opening of the inaugural Singapore Garden Festival Orchid Show at the Botanic Gardens, where more than 100 varieties of award-winning and heritage orchids are on display.
The seed bank will house a seed biology lab, rooms for seed processing and storage freezers.
It will also have galleries for visitors to learn about seed banking and conservation work.
Work is expected to start later this year and be completed by mid-2019. It will have the capacity to store seeds of up to 25,000 species, nearly triple the 9,000 living plant species in the Gardens.
This is half the total number of seed plant species in South-east Asia. NParks will work with Britain's Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank to tap its expertise and learn how to best manage seed banks of tropical plants.
HSBC has donated $103,000 to kick-start the development of the seed bank, which hopes to obtain 100 seed collections every year.
Moving forward, NParks will also look at how members of the public can contribute to the conservation work at the seed bank through the Garden City Fund.
The nine-day orchid show, launched yesterday by President Halimah Yacob, is the first part of the Singapore Garden Festival, which has expanded its format to include a main show at Gardens by the Bay in July, and a horticulture show next year.
More than 700 of the region's best orchid plants were submitted by breeders for the show, and more than 400 awards were given out.
Mr Christopher Teo, an orchid hobbyist, won two of the top 38 trophies, for being the highest-scoring amateur and for his submission of rat-tail orchid, a rare species that is endemic to the island of Borneo.
The 48-year-old, who works in the food and beverage industry, said he hopes to visit the seed bank when it is ready. "Many orchid and plant species are endangered partly because of over-collection in the horticulture trade, loss of their natural habitat like forest land in South-east Asia, and maybe climate change," said Mr Teo, who has been growing orchids for the last decade. "I think anything that helps to protect our biodiversity and is beneficial to nature is good."