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These seeds will captivate you even if you're not a gardener

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The seed of the pong-pong tree is among the examples featured in The Book of Seeds. The book covers seeds from around the world, many of them threatened.

Washington

CHANCES are, you've never given seeds much thought. Maybe you strew them around your garden each spring. Maybe you pour them into your salad.

But seeds are more than snacks - they're little repositories of the genetic information that makes the plant world tick. And they're on display in all their compact complexity in The Book of Seeds, edited by Paul Smith, secretary- general of Botanic Gardens Conservation International. The Britain-based non-profit organisation, which links more than 500 botanic gardens in 96 countries, works to conserve plants and the seeds from which they sprout in an effort to safeguard Earth's diversity of plants.

That diversity is on full display in The Book of Seeds. It covers seeds from around the world, many of them threatened. There are beloved spices such as cinnamon and cardamom, the predecessors of common trees such as sycamores and maples, and more unusual specimens, too. Some seeds, like those of birches, waft on the wind; others, like the pigeon pea, are floaters that drift, raftlike, to other continents. And those journeys are just the beginning. Once they're in the ground, seeds must germinate.

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If conditions aren't ideal, they'll stay dormant - sometimes for as long as 2,000 years, as when ancient date palm seeds found in 2005 in a fortress in Israel sprouted millennia later.

As population growth and climate change challenge the survival of seeds and plants, their fate is increasingly in human hands. Mr Smith, who used to head up the Royal Botanic Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank, is all too aware of those risks. He includes plenty of information on seed conservation, storage and plant diversity.

Like any good coffee-table book, The Book of Seeds contains plenty of eye candy. The seeds, presented in captivating photographs, are at once familiar and foreign. As the fate of more than 100,000 plants hangs in the balance, it's worth pausing to appreciate the seeds from which they spring. WP