Some seeds just don't go out of date

Some seeds lose their ability to germinate successfully after only a few years. Others keep it for decades or longer.

One of the oldest seeds known to have successfully germinated was about 20 centuries or 2,000 years old. It was found in 2005 in an old fort in Masada in Israel.

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The seed was in a group that was radiocarbon dated to between 35 years BCE and 65 years CE. (CE refers to the Common Era. For example, the year commonly known in the West as 2006 is 2006 CE.)

The seeds were soaked in hot water to soften the coat. Then they went into an acid rich in plant hormones then into an enzyme-rich fertilizer containing seaweed and other nutrients.

They were planted in pots and after about six weeks the first two leaves began to appear. They were pale, presumably because the seed was just about exhausted. These were cotyledons or seed leaves, different from the true leaves that grow after the seed leaves kick-start the plant.

The third leaf (the first true leaf rather than a cotyledon) looked fairly like a date leaf and after that they looked more and more normal as if it was now recovering from the difficulty of coming out of the seed.

The plant was nicknamed Methuselah after the very long-lived character from Hebrew history.

Assuming Methuselah has similar maturity to modern date palms, it could be 2035 before the date bears fruit.

If not, it will be an interesting experiment in the ageless nature of some seeds, but desperate and dateless.

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This page was updated on December 27, 2007