2.4.3 Seed

In angiosperms, the seed is the final product of sexual reproduction. It is often described as a fertilised ovule. Seeds are formed inside fruits. A seed typically consists of seed coat(s), cotyledon(s) and an embryo axis. The cotyledons of the embryo are simple structures, generally thick and swollen due to storage of food reserves (as in legumes). Mature seeds may be non-albuminous or albuminous.

Non-albuminous seeds have no residual endosperm as it is completely consumed during embryo development (e.g., pea, groundnut). Albuminous seeds retain a part of endosperm as it is not completely used up during embryo development (e.g., wheat, maize, barley, castor, sunflower).

Occasionally, in some seeds such as black pepper and beet, remnants of nucellus are also persistent. This residual, persistent nucellus is the perisperm. Integuments of ovules harden as tough protective seed coats. The micropyle remains as a small pore in the seed coat.

This facilitates entry of oxygen and water into the seed during germination. As the seed matures, its water content is reduced and seeds become relatively dry (10-15 per cent moisture by mass). The general metabolic activity of the embryo slows down. The embryo may enter a state of inactivity called dormancy, or if favourable conditions are available (adequate moisture, oxygen and suitable temperature), they germinate.

As ovules mature into seeds, the ovary develops into a fruit, i.e., the transformation of ovules into seeds and ovary into fruit proceeds simultaneously. The wall of the ovary develops into the wall of fruit called pericarp. The fruits may be fleshy as in guava, orange, mango, etc., or may be dry, as in groundnut, and mustard, etc. Many fruits have evolved mechanisms for dispersal of seeds. Recall the classification of fruits and their dispersal mechanisms that you have studied in an earlier class.

Is there any relationship between number of ovules in an ovary and the number of seeds present in a fruit? In most plants, by the time the fruit develops from the ovary, other floral parts degenerate and fall off. However, in a few species such as apple, strawberry, cashew, etc., the thalamus also contributes to fruit formation. Such fruits are called false fruits.

Most fruits however develop only from the ovary and are called true fruits. Although in most of the species, fruits are the results of fertilisation, there are a few species in which fruits develop without fertilisation.

Such fruits are called parthenocarpic fruits. Banana is one such example. Parthenocarpy can be induced through the application of growth hormones and such fruits are seedless. Seeds offer several advantages to angiosperms. Firstly, since reproductive processes such as pollination and fertilisation are independent of water, seed formation is more dependable.

Also seeds have better adaptive strategies for dispersal to new habitats and help the species to colonise in other areas. As they have sufficient food reserves, young seedlings are nourished until they are capable of photosynthesis on their own. The hard seed coat provides protection to the young embryo. Being products of sexual reproduction, they generate new genetic combinations leading to variations.

Seed is the basis of our agriculture. Dehydration and dormancy of mature seeds are crucial for storage of seeds which can be used as food through out the year and also to raise crop in the next season. Can you imagine agriculture in the absence of seeds, or in the presence of seeds which germinate straight away soon after formation and cannot be stored?

How long do the seeds remain alive after they are dispersed? This period again varies greatly. In a few species the seeds lose viability within a few months. Seeds of a large number of species live for several years. Some seeds can remain alive for hundreds of years. There are several records of very old yet viable seeds.

The oldest is that of a lupine, Lupinus arcticus excavated from Arctic Tundra. The seed germinated and flowered after an estimated record of 10,000 years of dormancy. A recent record of 2000 years old viable seed is of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera discovered during the archeological excavation at King Herod’s palace near the Dead Sea.

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