germination, in a seed, process by which the plant embryo within the seed resumes growth after a period of dormancy and the seedling emerges. The length of dormancy varies; the seed of some plants (e.g., most grasses and many tropical plants) can sprout almost immediately, but many seeds require a resting stage before they are able to germinate. The viability of seeds (their capacity to sprout) ranges from a few weeks (orchids) to up to 1,200 years (sacred lotus) and 2,000 years (date palm). The percentage of viable seed decreases with age. Dormancy serves to enable the seed to survive poor growing conditions; a certain amount of embryonic development may also take place. Dormancy can be prolonged by extremely tough seed coats that exclude the water necessary for germination. Internally, growth is regulated by hormones called auxins. When the temperature is suitable and there is an adequate supply of moisture, oxygen, and light—although some seeds require darkness and others are unaffected by either—the seed absorbs water and swells, rupturing the seed coat. The growing tip (radicle) of the rudimentary root (hypocotyl) emerges first and then the growing tip (plumule) of the rudimentary shoot (epicotyl). Food stored in the endosperm or in the cotyledons provides energy for the early stages of this process, until the seedling is able to manufacture its own food via photosynthesis.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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