Mysterious hybrid species discovered hiding among 144-year-old ‘zombie seeds’ from secretive experiment

A pair of Verbascum seeds that successfully germinated in 2021 despite being buried for more than 140 years. (Image credit: Derrick L. Turner/Michigan State University)

Researchers working on a secretive, 144-year-long experiment on “zombie seeds” have discovered a surprising hybrid plant hiding among the other buried buds. 

In 1879, botanist William Beal buried 20 glass pint bottles, each filled with wet sand and 50 seeds belonging to 23 species of weeds, at an unknown location at Michigan State University (MSU). Beal’s goal was to discover how long the seeds could remain viable by digging up the bottles years later to see if the seeds would germinate, or grow into plants. He hoped to discover how long dormant seeds beneath agricultural fields could pose a threat to farmers if they were dredged up by the plow. 

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