Distributing Samples and Information

  • Photo of conservationist sowing fern spores

    Jason Lopez, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, sows fern spores. Photo credit: Kristie Wendelberger. July, 2005.

  • Photo of two conservationists carefully documenting seed collections

    Seed collections are carefully documented at the Institute for Applied Ecology New Mexico office. Photo credit: Joyce Maschinski. March, 2019.


  • Conservation collections ideally serve the conservation of the species in the wild. Distributions made for this purpose are encouraged.
  • Permits, the collector’s institution collection policy, and the storage agreement with banking facilities will govern the distribution details for seeds, tissues, or whole plants in the future.
  • Distribute in a manner that maintains collection health.

Samples are primarily collected for repatriation to the wild or for research that facilitates the species reintroduction to the wild. Participating Institutions may wish to have accessions distributed for these purposes and should not feel obligated to distribute for any other purpose.

Follow permit requirements for distribution.

Follow your institution requirements for distribution.

  • If your institution does not have a material transfer policy and agreement, work with administration to create one. Note that CPC Participating institutions are included under the Material Transfer Research Agreement with the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation. A CPC Participating Institution may obtain a separate Material Transfer Agreement for black-box storage.
  • Indicate the final destination of surviving plants (if for research), use and ownership of any F1 seed propagated, and information sharing relevant to the conservation of the taxon, etc.

Understand distribution requirements of your agreements.

  • Seeds and relevant accession information may be distributed in compliance with agreements, national laws, permits, and policies of the seed bank and the participating institution (for example, CPC PIs MTRA form, which can be accessed at www. saveplants.org/login).
  • In vitro cultures may be distributed according to agreements held with the laboratory.

Distribute seeds or in vitro cultures sparingly.

  • Evaluate and distribute the minimum number of seeds or in vitro cultured plants based on the users’ research needs, the biology of the species, and the quantity of seeds or plants available.
  • At the time a request is made, assess the quantity of seeds available at the seed bank or in vitro cultures in laboratory and compare to the quantity needed for the researcher’s research question. Some research needs may require as few as five viable propagules, while others require large quantities. Population genetic research, propagation trials, and research on species with unknown germination requirements may require large numbers of seed or plant tissues. FAQ - How can I determine a bona fide request for distribution of my seeds?
  • Accessions with fewer than 50 seeds or in vitro cultured plants may require regeneration/ increase by the Participating Institution or a partner before they can serve a reintroduction or research purpose. Mutual agreement between the user and the Participating Institution will determine the nature and financial details of the regeneration.

Package items for distribution carefully.

  • Package seeds or plant tissue for distribution considering weather and arrival conditions and including all necessary data.
  • Place packaged seeds into a plastic Ziploc bag to keep them dry, clearly marking each envelope with the full taxon name, accession number, and quantity of seeds. Place seed envelopes in a padded box or Styrofoam container for shipment. Because seeds are fragile, protect them from excessive movement, crushing, and temperature extremes. Do not freeze prior to shipping.
  • If transporting plant stem cuttings, wrap stems in moist paper towel or sphagnum moss to transport to laboratory.
  • In vitro cultured plants can be transported in growing tubes.
  • Include a printed, dated form describing the full contents of the shipment with the package. Where appropriate, also send shipment and accessions data to the recipient electronically. Germplasm sent to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) research should be accompanied by the submission of the electronic accession form available in the CPC PI portal.
  • Prior to sending seeds or plants, communicate with recipient to align timing of package arrival with the availability of personnel to receive the shipment. Take care not to ship for a weekend arrival or postal holiday. Ship seeds overnight. Notify the receiver and send the tracking number.
  • Obtain all relevant customs paperwork and necessary permits prior to shipment.
  • Make arrangements as necessary as to which party will bear shipping costs.

Consider appropriate risk management precautions.

Share information with partners.

Germination protocols, viability of seeds in storage over varying lengths of time, and seed characteristics are important details to share with conservation partners. Because there is still much to learn about storing seeds of rare species, we encourage you to publish your findings.

equipment list graphic

Foil or glassine envelopes
Padded envelope, box for shipping

Reference for CPC Guidelines

FAO Genebank Standards for Plant Genetic Diversity (FAO 2014)

Standards for Distribution and Exchange

4.8.1 Seeds should be distributed in compliance with national laws and relevant international treaties and conventions.

4.8.2 Seed samples should be provided with all relevant documents required by recipient country.

4.8.3 The time span between receipt of a request for seeds and the dispatch of the seeds should be kept to a minimum.

4.8.4 For most species, a sample of a minimum of 30–50 viable seeds should be supplied for accessions with sufficient seeds in stock. For accessions with too little seed at the time of request and in the absence of a suitable alternative accession, samples should be supplied after regeneration/ multiplication, based on a renewed request. For some species and some research uses, smaller numbers of seeds should be an acceptable distribution sample size.

MSB Partnership Collections (Millennium Seed Bank Partnership 2015)

Distribution 6.1 Collections are available for use [under an appropriate Material Supply Agreement], at least in country where banked.

6.2 A distribution policy, with appropriate risk management for pests, diseases and potentially invasive species, is in place and applied.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2014. Genebank standards for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Rome, Italy. http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3704e.pdf.

Maschinski, J., M. A. Albrecht, L. Monks, and K. E. Haskins. 2012. Center for Plant Conservation best reintroduction practice guidelines. In J. Maschinski and K. E. Haskins, editors. Plant reintroduction in a changing climate: promises and perils. Island Press, Washington DC.

Maschinski, J., D. A. Falk, S. J. Wright, J. Possley, J. Roncal, and K. S. Wendelberger. 2012. Optimal locations for plant reintroductions in a changing world. In J. Maschinski and K. E. Haskins,editors. Plant reintroduction in a changing climate: promises and perils. Island Press, Washington DC.

Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSB). 2015. Seed conservation standards for “MSB Partnership Collections.” Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK).

Have a question or info about Documentation and Data Sharing?


Suggested Citation

Center for Plant Conservation. Distributing Samples and Information in CPC Best Plant Conservation Practices to Support Species Survival in the Wild. Web Version. https://plantnucleus.com/best-practices/distributing-samples-and-information Accessed: 01/17/2021 - 5:57pm