Development Seeds and Fruit

Development of a Seed

The mature ovule develops into the seed. A typical seed contains a seed coat, cotyledons, endosperm, and a single embryo (Figure 1).

 Illustration shows the structure of a monocot corn seed and a dicot bean seed. The lower half of the monocot seed contains the cotyledon, and the upper half contains the endosperm. The dicot seed does not contain an endosperm, but has two cotyledons, one on each side of the bean. Both the monocot and the dicot seed have an epicotyl that is attached to a hypocotyl. The hypocotyl terminates in a radicle. In the dicot, the epicotyl is in the upper middle part of the seed. In the monocot, the epicotyl is in the lower cotyledon. Both the monocot and dicot seed are surrounded by a seed coat.

Figure 1. The structures of dicot and monocot seeds are shown. Dicots (left) have two cotyledons. Monocots, such as corn (right), have one cotyledon, called the scutellum; it channels nutrition to the growing embryo. Both monocot and dicot embryos have a plumule that forms the leaves, a hypocotyl that forms the stem, and a radicle that forms the root. The embryonic axis comprises everything between the plumule and the radicle, not including the cotyledon(s).

Practice Question

What is of the following statements is true?

  1. Both monocots and dicots have an endosperm.
  2. The radicle develops into the root.
  3. The plumule is part of the epicotyl
  4. The endosperm is part of the embryo.

The storage of food reserves in angiosperm seeds differs between monocots and dicots. In monocots, such as corn and wheat, the single cotyledon is called a scutellum; the scutellum is connected directly to the embryo via vascular tissue (xylem and phloem). Food reserves are stored in the large endosperm. Upon germination, enzymes are secreted by the aleurone, a single layer of cells just inside the seed coat that surrounds the endosperm and embryo. The enzymes degrade the stored carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, the products of which are absorbed by the scutellum and transported via a vasculature strand to the developing embryo. Therefore, the scutellum can be seen to be an absorptive organ, not a storage organ.

The two cotyledons in the dicot seed also have vascular connections to the embryo. In endospermic dicots, the food reserves are stored in the endosperm. During germination, the two cotyledons therefore act as absorptive organs to take up the enzymatically released food reserves, much like in monocots (monocots, by definition, also have endospermic seeds). Tobacco (Nicotiana tabaccum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), and pepper (Capsicum annuum) are examples of endospermic dicots. In non-endospermic dicots, the triploid endosperm develops normally following double fertilization, but the endosperm food reserves are quickly remobilized and moved into the developing cotyledon for storage. The two halves of a peanut seed (Arachis hypogaea) and the split peas (Pisum sativum) of split pea soup are individual cotyledons loaded with food reserves.

The seed, along with the ovule, is protected by a seed coat that is formed from the integuments of the ovule sac. In dicots, the seed coat is further divided into an outer coat known as the testa and inner coat known as the tegmen.

The embryonic axis consists of three parts: the plumule, the radicle, and the hypocotyl. The portion of the embryo between the cotyledon attachment point and the radicle is known as the hypocotyl (hypocotyl means “below the cotyledons”). The embryonic axis terminates in a radicle (the embryonic root), which is the region from which the root will develop. In dicots, the hypocotyls extend above ground, giving rise to the stem of the plant. In monocots, the hypocotyl does not show above ground because monocots do not exhibit stem elongation. The part of the embryonic axis that projects above the cotyledons is known as the epicotyl. The plumule is composed of the epicotyl, young leaves, and the shoot apical meristem.

Upon germination in dicot seeds, the epicotyl is shaped like a hook with the plumule pointing downwards. This shape is called the plumule hook, and it persists as long as germination proceeds in the dark. Therefore, as the epicotyl pushes through the tough and abrasive soil, the plumule is protected from damage. Upon exposure to light, the hypocotyl hook straightens out, the young foliage leaves face the sun and expand, and the epicotyl continues to elongate. During this time, the radicle is also growing and producing the primary root. As it grows downward to form the tap root, lateral roots branch off to all sides, producing the typical dicot tap root system.

 Illustration shows a round seed with a long thin radicle, or primary root, extending down from it. A yellow tip , the coleorhiza, is visible at the end of the root. Two shorter adventitious roots extend down on either side of the radicle. Growing up from the root is a thicker coleoptile, or primary shoot.

Figure 2. As this monocot grass seed germinates, the primary root, or radicle, emerges first, followed by the primary shoot, or coleoptile, and the adventitious roots.

In monocot seeds (Figure 2), the testa and tegmen of the seed coat are fused. As the seed germinates, the primary root emerges, protected by the root-tip covering: the coleorhiza. Next, the primary shoot emerges, protected by the coleoptile: the covering of the shoot tip. Upon exposure to light (i.e. when the plumule has exited the soil and the protective coleoptile is no longer needed), elongation of the coleoptile ceases and the leaves expand and unfold. At the other end of the embryonic axis, the primary root soon dies, while other, adventitious roots (roots that do not arise from the usual place – i.e. the root) emerge from the base of the stem. This gives the monocot a fibrous root system.

Seed Germination

Many mature seeds enter a period of inactivity, or extremely low metabolic activity: a process known as dormancy, which may last for months, years or even centuries. Dormancy helps keep seeds viable during unfavorable conditions. Upon a return to favorable conditions, seed germination takes place. Favorable conditions could be as diverse as moisture, light, cold, fire, or chemical treatments. After heavy rains, many new seedlings emerge. Forest fires also lead to the emergence of new seedlings. Some seeds require vernalization (cold treatment) before they can germinate. This guarantees that seeds produced by plants in temperate climates will not germinate until the spring. Plants growing in hot climates may have seeds that need a heat treatment in order to germinate, to avoid germination in the hot, dry summers. In many seeds, the presence of a thick seed coat retards the ability to germinate. Scarification, which includes mechanical or chemical processes to soften the seed coat, is often employed before germination. Presoaking in hot water, or passing through an acid environment, such as an animal’s digestive tract, may also be employed.

Depending on seed size, the time taken for a seedling to emerge may vary. Species with large seeds have enough food reserves to germinate deep below ground, and still extend their epicotyl all the way to the soil surface. Seeds of small-seeded species usually require light as a germination cue. This ensures the seeds only germinate at or near the soil surface (where the light is greatest). If they were to germinate too far underneath the surface, the developing seedling would not have enough food reserves to reach the sunlight.

Development of Fruit and Fruit Types

After fertilization, the ovary of the flower usually develops into the fruit. Fruits are usually associated with having a sweet taste; however, not all fruits are sweet. Botanically, the term “fruit” is used for a ripened ovary. In most cases, flowers in which fertilization has taken place will develop into fruits, and flowers in which fertilization has not taken place will not. Some fruits develop from the ovary and are known as true fruits, whereas others develop from other parts of the female gametophyte and are known as accessory fruits. The fruit encloses the seeds and the developing embryo, thereby providing it with protection. Fruits are of many types, depending on their origin and texture. The sweet tissue of the blackberry, the red flesh of the tomato, the shell of the peanut, and the hull of corn (the tough, thin part that gets stuck in your teeth when you eat popcorn) are all fruits. As the fruit matures, the seeds also mature.

Fruits may be classified as simple, aggregate, multiple, or accessory, depending on their origin (Figure 3). If the fruit develops from a single carpel or fused carpels of a single ovary, it is known as a simple fruit, as seen in nuts and beans. An aggregate fruit is one that develops from more than one carpel, but all are in the same flower: the mature carpels fuse together to form the entire fruit, as seen in the raspberry. Multiple fruit develops from an inflorescence or a cluster of flowers. An example is the pineapple, where the flowers fuse together to form the fruit. Accessory fruits (sometimes called false fruits) are not derived from the ovary, but from another part of the flower, such as the receptacle (strawberry) or the hypanthium (apples and pears).

 Photos depict a variety of nuts in their shells, an apple, raspberries and a pineapple.

Figure 3. There are four main types of fruits. Simple fruits, such as these nuts, are derived from a single ovary. Aggregate fruits, like raspberries, form from many carpels that fuse together. Multiple fruits, such as pineapple, form from a cluster of flowers called an inflorescence. Accessory fruit, like the apple, are formed from a part of the plant other than the ovary. (credit “nuts”: modification of work by Petr Kratochvil; credit “raspberries”: modification of work by jill111; credit “pineapple”: modification of work by psaudio; credit “apple”: modification of work by Paolo Neo)

Fruits generally have three parts: the exocarp (the outermost skin or covering), the mesocarp (middle part of the fruit), and the endocarp (the inner part of the fruit). Together, all three are known as the pericarp. The mesocarp is usually the fleshy, edible part of the fruit; however, in some fruits, such as the almond, the endocarp is the edible part. In many fruits, two or all three of the layers are fused, and are indistinguishable at maturity. Fruits can be dry or fleshy. Furthermore, fruits can be divided into dehiscent or indehiscent types. Dehiscent fruits, such as peas, readily release their seeds, while indehiscent fruits, like peaches, rely on decay to release their seeds.