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Seed Germination and Viability

Jessica Branstetter, Dania Chandler, Katie Chock, Laurie Slatkin
Teachers College of San Joaquin

A variety of factors can influence seed germination and subsequent plant growth. Even
the term germination can be misconstrued. A seed is considered germinated when, according to
Bewley (1997), the penetration of the structures surrounding the embryo by the radicle. A seed,
much like a human, consists of an embryo. In order to germinate and become a viable plant,
several factors must fall into place. Seeds have certain basic needs: sunlight, water, nutrients
(soil), and favorable temperatures. The seed itself consists of several parts: the seed coat, the
embryo, and the endosperm where the built in food supply is stored (AZ Master Gardener
Manual: Seeds, 1998). When conditions are optimal, germination may take place and a radicle
root will emerge from the seed coat. This root will become the basis of the plant and verifies that
the seed is viable. In our study, we hypothesized that if the rate of successful germination and
growth of a radical root is related to the purity of water introduced to the plant seed, then adding
solvents to the water will negatively affect seed germination and viability.
Typical seed germination takes place when certain conditions are present. Seeds can
remain in a status state if kept dry for a considerable amount of time. Longevity cases have been
documented upwards of eighty or more years (Butterfield, 1967). Most seeds will cease to be
viable within a time frame of three to five years. When water is present, the seed will absorb the
liquid through the seed coat and if all other conditions are met, the seed will resume active
growth and a radical root will emerge. One common issue with seed germination includes
improper moisture, either too little at time of planting or too much prior to planting which can
lead to mildewing of the seed. Another issue concerns the soil used for germination. Soil that is
dense or too compact will allow the radicle to emerge, but the epicotyl and hypocotyl will not be

able to breach the top of the soil layer. This is also an issue if a seed is planted too deep within
the soil. The seed does not hold enough energy in the endosperm to reach the top. Temperature is
one of the most important factors to seed viability and impacts the successful germination. Most
seeds require consistently warm temperatures for viable seed growth.
We chose to manipulate the liquid used for germination. In todays climate, salt water is
ever more present. Farmers have more salinity in their soil necessitating the need for more salt
tolerant seeds. Chemicals are frequently found in soils that are not natural. If seeds are able to
grow in those environments, their viability can be ensured. Our question was to what extent
would manipulating the water have on the seeds viability?
Our dependent variable, the seed, is sensitive to water and other liquids. Too much liquid
can render the seed unviable with the same result occurring with insufficient liquid. The seeds
we choose are all commonly found in California gardens and have a similar growth rate. In order
to maintain an even influence of other conditions needed for germination, we maintained the
temperature and light the same for all groups.
Seed viability and germination can be studied in many ways. The effect of heat on seeds
or nutritional value of the soil can be studied. Overcrowding of seed planting can also affect
germination. We used water and solvents to attempt to germinate seeds and assess their viability.
To keep all groups equal, each group was handled in a similar manner. Plastic baggies were
prepared with a paper towel and the seeds laid out in an equal manner. Liquid was measured and
distributed the same.

If the rate of successful germination and growth of a radical root is related to the purity of
water introduced to the plant seed, then adding solvents to the water will negatively affect seed
germination and viability.
Materials and Method
In this study, we intended to test whether or not adding solvents to purified water would
negatively affect seed germination and viability. We hypothesized that the rate of successful
germination and growth of a radical root is related to the purity of water introduced to the plant
seed, then adding solvents to the water will negatively affect seed germination and viability. We
chose to add four different solvents to the water (sugar, salt, Splenda, and SweetNLow) in order
to see if the type of solvent added would make a difference to germination and viability. We also
chose to use four different types of seeds (corn, black bean, zinnia, and sunflower) to see if the
solvents would affect different types of seeds differently.
In setting up, we placed seeds in the same sequence and an equal distance apart on a
paper towel, then placed the paper towel in an opened sandwich sized Ziploc bag. The seeds
were organized in the same sequence in each bag: corn, black bean, zinnia, sunflower. These
were each laid on a half-sized paper towel which was folded vertically in thirds before sliding
them into the bags (see figure 1) The bags were stored in a windowsill which has an equal
amount of sunlight for each bag (see figure 2), and the solutions were placed next to each
matching bag. We then saturated the paper towels with 11 ml of each given solution, making sure
each bag was clearly labeled with the solution used within.


Figure 1: An example of how seeds were arranged in each

bag during set-up.

Figure 2: Solution and seed placement.

Each solution contained 100 mL of water and 2 tablespoons of each solvent. Each day we
added 10 mL of solution to each bag, making sure to spread the liquid as evenly as possible to

the paper towel above each seed; this was done with a 10 mL syringe. We took photos each day
and when radical roots had emerged we then began the process of measuring the roots each day
(see Figure 3). When possible, we also measured the length of stems as they emerged. This
process took place between 3:00pm and 4:00pm each day that data was collected. We did this
process each of the ten days of the experiment with the exception of day 6.

Figure 3: Example of documentation and measurement of seeds and stems.

This experiment allows us to determine and evaluate the most effective solution for
germinating seeds and promoting optimum seed growth. Our results indicate that seeds in water
germinate first. According to figures 4-7, water facilitated the germination of the corn, black
bean and zinnia seeds on day 3, and the sunflower seed on day 4. Additionally, in figures 4-7, the
data indicates that none of the seeds will germinate or grow in the salt water; The teal colored

line on the x-axis of this figure shows no germination. Figure 6 illustrates the root length for all
Zinnia seeds, which grew slower than the corn, sunflower, and black bean seeds. Our qualitative
data indicates that on day two of our experiment, color leaching is visible for each seed except
for the corn seed.
We used the ANOVA test to calculate p-value statistics for the different plants. The values
for the corn, black bean, zinnia, and sunflower are 0.149, 0.018, 0.018, and 0.0007 respectively.
As shown in Figure 8, the mathematical calculation of the mean for each liquid are 44.5 mm, 31
mm, 25.75 mm, 13.25 mm, and 0 mm for the solutions of water, splenda, sugar, sweet n low, and
salt. We choose these data calculations to determine if our hypothesis was supported or rejected,
to illustrate the most optimal liquid for germination, and to display plant growth over time. We
did not calculate any outliers for our data.

Figure 4


Figure 5

Figure 6


Figure 7

Figure 8


Analysis and Conclusions

Our hypothesis was partially supported. Adding solvents to water negatively affected
seed germination and viability for three of the four seeds thus supporting our hypothesis. The
exception to this was corn, for which there was no statistical significance with a p-value of
0.149. For all other seeds statistical significance was observed, which accepts our hypothesis.
Water without additional solvents produced the highest average of growth amongst the four types
of seeds at 44.5 mm, followed by Splenda at 31mm, Sugar at 25.75 mm, Sweet N Low at 13.25
mm, and salt at zero millimeters.
According to Nasri, Sadi, Kaddour, and Lachal (2015), salt stress affects germination
percentage, germination rate and seedling growth in different ways depending on plant species.
In our experiment there was no observable seed germination using salt as a solvent. The only
change in appearance, in the form of color leaching, occurred with the black bean and sunflower
seeds on day 2, day 4, and day 5. This may have occurred because of the amount of salt added to
the water.
Splenda and Sweet N Low had the longest root growth from corn. This growth may be
due to sucrose [which] functions as an important signaling molecule in the regulation of
germination and seedling development (Xu, Tan, & Wang, 2010). Though studies show that
glucose [results] in a delay of germination and an inhibition of seedling development, (Xu et
al., 2010) sugar produced the longest root growth from the black bean. Our data suggests that
water is optimal for the germination of corn, zinnia, and sunflower seeds while water mixed with

sugar is ideal for the germination of black bean seeds. The data from the black bean, zinnia, and
sunflower seeds accepted the hypothesis with p-values of 0.018, 0.018, and 0.007 respectively.
The data from corn rejected the hypothesis with a p-value of 0.149.

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