Seed Germination


By StromBer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

OpenStax Biology 2e

Many mature seeds enter a period of inactivity, or extremely low metabolic activity: a process known as dormancy, which may last for months, years, or even centuries. Dormancy helps keep seeds viable during unfavorable conditions. Upon a return to favorable conditions, seed germination takes place. Favorable conditions could be as diverse as moisture, light, cold, fire, or chemical treatments. After heavy rains, many new seedlings emerge. Forest fires also lead to the emergence of new seedlings. Some seeds require vernalization (cold treatment) before they can germinate. This guarantees that seeds produced by plants in temperate climates will not germinate until the spring. Plants growing in hot climates may have seeds that need a heat treatment in order to germinate, to avoid germination in the hot, dry summers. In many seeds, the presence of a thick seed coat retards the ability to germinate. Scarification, which includes mechanical or chemical processes to soften the seed coat, is often employed before germination. Presoaking in hot water, or passing through an acid environment, such as an animal’s digestive tract, may also be employed.

Depending on seed size, the time taken for a seedling to emerge may vary. Species with large seeds have enough food reserves to germinate deep below ground, and still extend their epicotyl all the way to the soil surface. Seeds of small-seeded species usually require light as a germination cue. This ensures the seeds only germinate at or near the soil surface (where the light is greatest). If they were to germinate too far underneath the surface, the developing seedling would not have enough food reserves to reach the sunlight.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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