Variation in dormancy and germination in three co-occurring perennial forest herbs
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Mesic deciduous forest herbs often disperse seed with morphophysiological dormancy (MPD) that prevents germination during unfavorable periods for seedling survival. However, for seeds of some species with MPD, seasonal separation of root and shoot emergence and variation in dormancy levels can complicate interpretation of seedling emergence timing in the field. We tested whether dormancy-break and germination requirements differed among co-occurring perennial forest herbs, Actaea racemosa, Hydrastis canadensis, and Sanguinaria canadensis, which are wild-harvested for their medicinal properties and known to have MPD. Seeds of all species exhibited a summer ? autumn ? winter requirement for seedling emergence in spring. However, species differed in seed-bank persistence due to variation in primary dormancy levels and stratification requirement of seeds. A. racemosa and H. canadensis can form short-term persistent seed bank, whereas S. canadensis can form a long-term persistent seed-bank, regardless of whether elaiosomes were removed from seeds prior to burial. A. racemosa seeds are dispersed in autumn with weak physiological dormancy, as seeds germinated to high rates at 15/6°C after 8 weeks. In contrast, most seeds of the summer dispersed species, H. canadensis and S. canadensis, require summer temperatures to overcome physiological dormancy. Consequently, seedling emergence is reduced and delayed by 1 year if seeds are not sown immediately following the period of natural dispersal. Seedling emergence was much lower in the field than in controlled conditions for all species, especially in the small-seeded A. racemosa. Interspecific variation in dormancy levels and germination traits must be considered when establishing populations for conservation purposes and in understanding recruitment limitation in perennial forest herbs. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
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