Weed seed dormancy definition

Germination: Seed Dormancy

Well-timed germination is essential to grow wildflower seeds successfully. A main factor that contributes to poor or erratic germination is seed dormancy. Seed dormancy is the state in which seed is unable to germinate, even under ideal growing conditions (Merriam-Webster). Because dormancy can be broken by most ideal growing conditions (different and specific for each species), the seeds germinate when they are the most likely to flourish.

Species that have dormant seed have evolved dormancy because it is useful in survival. Plants utilize dormancy so that seed can endure unfavorable conditions and not all germinate at the same time and are killed by unfavorable weather (Seed Dormancy). While dormancy can enhance plant survival in the wild, it can prevent seeds from germinating uniformly and growing well in wildflower seed production fields.

There are two different categories of seed dormancy: exogenous and endogenous (Scarification). Exogenous dormancy is caused by conditions outside of the seed’s embryo. An example of exogenous dormancy is when the seed coat is too durable for moisture to infiltrate, effectively preventing germination. Endogenous dormancy occurs due to chemical changes within the seed’s embryo. One reason a plant cannot germinate due to endogenous dormancy is because the embryo is not yet fully developed or specific seasonal cues have not ensued (Endogenous Dormancy). Germination could also be suppressed due to endogenous chemical inhibitors.

See Also:

  • Scarification and Vernalization
  • Planting Methods


  • Seed Dormancy. International Specialty Supply.
  • Scarification. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
  • Endogenous Dormancy. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

External Resources:

  • Overcoming Seed Dormancy: Trees and Shrubs.
  • Plant Physiology Online: Types of Seed Dormancy and the Roles of Environmental Factors

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Weed Management in Horticulture Crops (1+1)

Weed ecology is the study of the interaction or relationship between a weed and its environment (other living organisms as well as abiotic factors). Ecology is concerned with growth characteristics and adaptations that enable weeds to survive the change in the environment. Man plays an important role in changing the environment by altering the crop husbandry practices and by maintaining weed free monocrop or multicrop culture. For effective weed control, the study on both biology and ecology of a weed species are important.

The weed seed bank and seed dormancy

Not only can weed seed and vegetative tissue travel great distances to infest new fields, but once in the soil, weed seed can remain viable for many years. In any given location, the weed seed bank contains a vast library of weed species and ecotypes that are adapted to a great range of environmental conditions and are ready to germinate given the proper signal. A study reported that a square foot of soil, 6 inches deep, contained 98 to 3,068 viable weed seeds. This represents between 4.3 million and 133 million viable seeds per acre.

The amount of time that a seed is capable of producing a seedling, or its viability, varies with weed species. In the extreme, lotus ( Nelumbo nucifera ) seeds found in a Manchurian lakebed were viable after 1,000 years. More commonly, the annual plant jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) has over 90 percent germination rate after 40 years in the soil.

Additionally, many weed seeds remain dormant in the soil until the conditions for germination and survival are appropriate for that particular seed. Dormancy is the seed’s resting stage and is the primary method of weed seed dispersal in time. Some weed seeds have seed coats that are impermeable to water and/or oxygen or are mechanically resistant. Others contain immature embryos or have a waiting period (called after-ripening) that must be completed before the seed will germinate. Seed dormancy is affected by environmental conditions, including temperature, light, oxygen, and the presence of chemical inhibitors.

Weed seeds possess a variety of special germination mechanisms adapted to changes in temperature, moisture, aeration, exposure to light, depth of burial of seeds etc., when conditions are unfavourable for germination, they can remain dormant or delay germination.

  • Seeds of many weeds require an exposure to light for germination. This is regulated by bluish-green protein pigment called phytochrome.
  • Many weed seeds germinate under aerobic conditions while some require anaerobic condition. Soil turnover during ploughing and other operations exposes the seeds to light and induces germination.
  • Periodicity of germination is another specialized germination mechanism. Amaranths sp. have a definite pattern of peaks of germination at regular intervals.
  • Summer annuals are favoured at higher temperature & winter annuals germinate at lower temperatures some weeds germinate freely throughout the year.

(1) Enforced Dormancy: It is due to deep placement of weed seeds in soil during ploughing of the field. Weed seeds germinate readily when they are restored to top 3 to 5 cm. Enforced Dormancy is a non-specific character of seed. Cultivation encounters enforced dormancy by bringing the weeds to surface where they are exposed to light besides better aeration. High soil temperature and NO3 content of surface soil may further help in breaking seed dormancy.

(2) Innate dormancy: It is a genetically controlled character and it is a feature of specific weed seeds which fail to germinate even if they are present in the top 3-5 cm soil and adequate soil moisture and temperature provided to them. The possible reasons are the presence of:

(i) Hard seed coats e.g., Setaria, Ipomoea, Xanthium spp.
(ii) Immature embryos e.g., Polygonum
In certain weed seeds particularly of Xerophytic origin, presence of inhibitors is responsible for innate dormancy. It can be overcome with passage of time, or under the influence of some climatic pressure.

(3) Induced Dormancy: Induced dormancy results from some sudden physiological change in normally non-dormant weed seeds under the impact of marked rise in temperature and or CO2 content of soil, low O2 pressure, water logging etc.

Wild oat ( Avena fatua ) seeds exhibit all three kinds of dormancy.