Temperature and seed germination

Symp Soc Exp Biol. 1988;42:109-32.


Temperature can affect the percentage and rate of germination through at least three separate physiological processes. 1. Seeds continuously deteriorate and, unless in the meanwhile they are germinated, they will ultimately die. The rate of deterioration depends mainly on moisture content and temperature. The Q10 for rate of loss of viability in orthodox seeds consistently increases from about 2 at -10 degrees C to about 10 at 70 degrees C. 2. Most seeds are initially dormant. Relatively dry seeds continuously lose dormancy at a rate which is temperature-dependent. Unlike enzyme reactions, the Q10 remains constant over a wide range of temperature at least up to 55 degrees C, and typically has a value in the region of 2.5-3.8. Hydrated seeds respond quite differently: high temperatures generally reinforce dormancy or may even induce it. Low temperatures may also induce dormancy in some circumstances, but in many species they are stimulatory (stratification response), especially within the range -1 degree C to 15 degrees C. Small, dormant, hydrated seeds are usually also stimulated to germinate by alternating temperatures which typically interact strongly and positively with light (and often also with other factors including nitrate ions). The most important attributes of alternating temperatures are amplitude, mean temperature, the relative periods spent above and below the median temperature of the cycle (thermoperiod) and the number of cycles. 3. Once seeds have lost dormancy their rate of germination (reciprocal of the time taken to germinate) shows a positive linear relation between the base temperature (at and below which the rate is zero) and the optimum temperature (at which the rate is maximal); and a negative linear relation between the optimal temperature and the ceiling temperature (at and above which the rate is again zero). The optimum temperature for germination rate is typically higher than that required to achieve maximum percentage germination in partially dormant or partially deteriorated seed populations. None of the sub-cellular mechanisms which underlie any of these temperature relations are understood. Nevertheless, the temperature responses can all be quantified and are fundamental to designing seed stores (especially long term for genetic conservation), prescribing germination test conditions, and understanding seed ecology (especially that required for the control of weeds).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Plant Development*
  • Seeds / growth & development*
  • Temperature*