Seeds That Defied Romans, Pirates, and Nazis

Our story starts quietly in a museum. In a cabinet. There, in the dark, sits a small batch of seeds: Persian silk tree seeds. They come from China. They were taken, probably secretly, from Beijing to London by a British diplomat in 1793. The British wanted to grow silk.

Flash forward to 1940. German bombers are flying over London. An incendiary bomb hits the botany section of London’s British Museum, smashing our cabinet, releasing the seeds. They fly off, land in the rubble, and get doused by London’s fire brigade. Weeks later, museum workers see some sprouts growing at the bomb site—baby silk trees. They’d germinated after 150 years ...

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