Dormancy is brief for some seeds—for example, those of certain short-lived annual plants. After dispersal and under appropriate environmental conditions, such as suitable temperature and access to water and oxygen, the seed germinates, and the embryo resumes growth.
The seeds of many species do not germinate immediately after exposure to conditions generally favourable for plant growth but require a “breaking” of dormancy, which may be associated with change in the seed coats or with the state of the embryo itself. Commonly, the embryo has no innate dormancy and will develop after the seed coat is removed or sufficiently damaged to allow water to enter.
Germination in such cases depends upon rotting or abrasion of the seed coat in the gut of an animal or in the soil. Inhibitors of germination must be either leached away by water or the tissues containing them destroyed before germination can occur. Mechanical restriction of the growth of the embryo is common only in species that have thick, tough seed coats. Germination then depends upon weakening of the coat by abrasion or decomposition.
In many seeds the embryo cannot germinate even under suitable conditions until a certain period of time has lapsed. The time may be required for continued embryonic development in the seed or for some necessary finishing process—known as afterripening—the nature of which remains obscure.
The seeds of many plants that endure cold winters will not germinate unless they experience a period of low temperature, usually somewhat above freezing. Otherwise, germination fails or is much delayed, with the early growth of the seedling often abnormal. (This response of seeds to chilling has a parallel in the temperature control of dormancy in buds.) In some species, germination is promoted by exposure to light of appropriate wavelengths.
In others, light inhibits germination. For the seeds of certain plants, germination is promoted by red light and inhibited by light of longer wavelength, in the “far red” range of the spectrum. The precise significance of this response is as yet unknown, but it may be a means of adjusting germination time to the season of the year or of detecting the depth of the seed in the soil. Light sensitivity and temperature requirements often interact, the light requirement being entirely lost at certain temperatures.