What is Sexual Propagation and Why Learn Seed Types,
List of Recalcitrant Plants
Ben G. Bareja, 2010

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In conventional methods, sexual propagation is with the use of seed or spore. Seeds are used in the spermatophytes or seed-bearing plants while spores are used in the seedless, spore-producing ferns and allies and the bryophytes.

The descriptive word “sexual” is attached to this type of propagation because the union of the male and female sexual gametes (the process is called fertilization) is a requisite in the production of the seed or in the development of a new plant from a spore. The certainty of sex in plants was established by Camerarius in 1694 (Poehlman, 1977).

Compared to vegetative or asexual methods, sexual propagation with the use of seed has the advantage of massive production of seedlings and rootstocks. However, the seedlings may not be true-to-type because both the maternal and paternal genes  contribute, through the process of fertilization, to the genotype of the embryo in the resulting seed. It is the embryo which gives rise to a new plant. This is similar to humans in which the offspring (child) exhibits physical traits which are variants of either parent.

The methods employed in sexual propagation using seeds are simple, but a nurseryman needs to be familiar with the characteristics of different seeds. S/He ought to know also seed dormancy and the different methods of seed pretreatment to break dormancy or to hasten seed germination. Another important consideration is seed longevity which affects viability.

It is in relation to seed longevity and the effects of drying and storage temperature on germination that seeds are classified as orthodox seeds and recalcitrant seeds. These classifications are in accordance with their sensitivity to drying and temperature. A third group is the intermediate seeds which exhibit the drying tolerance characteristic of the orthodox seeds but are sensitive to low temperature storage like the recalcitrant seeds.

Familiarization with these seed types can mean the difference between success or total failure in sexual propagation. As a general rule, the propagation of orthodox seeds can be delayed by drying. But the recalcitrant seeds must be planted immediately.

Orthodox or drying-tolerant seeds are “exemplified by most annual and biennial crops and agroforestry species which are relatively small-seeded. As in cereals and grain legumes, these seeds can tolerate drying to as low as 5% moisture content under common conditions and low storage temperatures. Their life span is, in fact, prolonged with low seed moisture and temperature.”

In contrast, recalcitrant or drying-sensitive seeds are “readily killed by drying, most especially if their moisture content falls below the critical value ranging from 12-30%. Unlike orthodox seeds they generally cannot withstand temperatures lower than 20 C, partly because of the high moisture content which renders the seed prone to chilling or freezing injury. Some can maintain viability at slightly lower temperatures but vigor of the seedling may be affected.

The seeds of a number of species, especially those of temperate origin, can tolerate much lower temperatures and may even require such conditions for germination. Even if kept moist, recalcitrant seeds are relatively short-lived with viabilities maintained from only a few weeks to a few months, depending on the species.

Recalcitrant species belong to trees and shrubs of the tropics and temperate areas which are moist, and some plants which grow in aquatic environments. These include some aquatic species, large-seeded tropical fruits and perennial plantation crops and timber species.” (Agroforestry Seeds Circular, March 1993).

Examples of plants with recalcitrant seeds (selected from Fernandez 1993):

Avocado Persea americana Lauraceae
Banaba Lagerstroemia speciosa Lythraceae
Black plum, duhat Syzygium cumini Myrtaceae
Chestnut Castanea spp. Fagaceae
Cacao Theobroma cacao Sterculiaceae
Canistel, tiesa Pouteria campechiana Sapotaceae
Coconut, niyog, lubi Cocos nucifera Arecaceae / Palmae
Sweet palm, kaong Arenga pinnata Arecaceae / Palmae
Durian Durio zibethinus Bombacaceae
Jackfruit, langka, nangka Artocarpus heterophyllus Moraceae
Lanzones Lansium domesticum Meliaceae
Lychee Litchi chinensis Sapindaceae
Macademia nut Macadamia integrifolia Proteaceae
Mango Mangifera indica Anacardiaceae
Mangosteen Garcinia mangostana Clusiaceae / Guttiferae
Rambutan Nepheleum lappaceum Sapindaceae
Rubber Hevea brasiliensis Moraceae
Santol Sandoricum koetjape Meliaceae
Tea Camellia sinensis Theaceae
Zapote Diospyros digyna Ebenaceae

With a few exception, the information that one crop species belonging to a family is recalcitrant indicates that other members of the same family are likewise recalcitrant. One exception is found in the family Anacardiaceae. Mango is recalcitrant, but cashew (Anacardium occidentale) is orthodox.

Guided by knowledge of the characteristics of seeds, a protocol can be formulated for the sexual propagation of plants. To ensure high germination, the general rule is to plant recalcitrant seeds immediately after seed extraction. If drying is necessary, care should be exercised to prevent overdrying. Better still, it may be done by air drying. If immediate planting is not possible, the seeds can still be stored, but only for a limited time duration and with the employment of special techniques.

For mango (Mangifera spp.), the fleshy, edible portion (the mesocarp) of the fruit is first removed. The seeds (like those discarded after eating ripe mango) can be exposed to direct sun until the remaining flesh, which is slippery, dries. To hasten germination, the hard husk (endocarp) which covers the true seed is removed with the use of a sharp tool like bolo.That outermost, filamentous covering is then removed. The seed is now ready for sowing.

Literature Cited

Fernandez PG. (ed.). 1993. Recalcitrant seeds and intermediates. Agroforestry Seeds Circular No, 3. (March 1993). p. 22-26.

Poehlman JM. 1977. Breeding Field Crops. Connecticut: AVI Publishing Co., Inc. p. 4.

Note: Do you know that many seeds used in sexual propagation may not be entirely seeds? Click here to read.

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