Germination Behavior of Different Seed Types: Orthodox, Recalcitrant, Intermediate

Seed germination is a crucial stage in the life cycle of plants, marking the transition from a dormant state to active growth. However, not all seeds exhibit the same germination behavior. Seeds can be classified into different types based on their ability to withstand desiccation and survive storage. The three main categories are orthodox seeds, recalcitrant seeds, and intermediate seeds. Understanding the germination behavior of these seed types is essential for successful propagation and conservation efforts. This article explores the characteristics and germination requirements of each seed type.

1. Orthodox Seeds

Definition and Characteristics

Orthodox seeds are those that can tolerate desiccation and survive long-term storage when kept under appropriate conditions. These seeds have low moisture content and exhibit a state of dormancy when mature. They are characterized by a dry seed coat and the ability to endure freezing temperatures without losing viability.

Germination Behavior

Orthodox seeds typically require specific environmental cues to break dormancy and initiate germination. The germination process involves a series of well-defined stages, including imbibition, respiration, radicle emergence, and subsequent shoot growth. These seeds often require a period of cold stratification or exposure to other environmental factors, such as light or fire, to overcome dormancy and trigger germination.

Examples of Orthodox Seeds

Orthodox seeds are widespread in various plant families and ecosystems. Examples of plants with orthodox seeds include most agricultural crops such as wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans, as well as many tree species like oak, maple, and pine.

2. Recalcitrant Seeds

Definition and Characteristics

Recalcitrant seeds, also known as intolerant or unorthodox seeds, are incapable of withstanding desiccation and cannot be stored for long periods. These seeds have a high moisture content and are usually short-lived after maturation. They are characterized by a fleshy or oily seed coat that does not allow them to enter a true dormant state.

Germination Behavior

Recalcitrant seeds typically germinate shortly after being dispersed or removed from the parent plant. They rely on the immediate availability of suitable environmental conditions for successful germination. Unlike orthodox seeds, recalcitrant seeds do not require specialized dormancy-breaking treatments and can germinate under favorable temperatures, moisture, and light conditions.

Examples of Recalcitrant Seeds

Recalcitrant seeds are commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions. Examples of plants with recalcitrant seeds include many fruit trees such as mango, avocado, and durian, as well as tropical rainforest tree species like mahogany and ebony.

3. Intermediate Seeds

Definition and Characteristics

Intermediate seeds possess characteristics that fall between orthodox and recalcitrant seeds. They can withstand some desiccation but have limited storage potential compared to orthodox seeds. Intermediate seeds may retain some viability when partially dried, but they cannot tolerate complete dehydration like orthodox seeds.

Germination Behavior

The germination behavior of intermediate seeds is variable and can exhibit characteristics of both orthodox and recalcitrant seeds. Some intermediate seeds may require specific dormancy-breaking treatments or environmental cues for successful germination, while others may germinate readily under favorable conditions without any pre-treatments.

Examples of Intermediate Seeds

Several plant species have intermediate seeds that display a range of germination behaviors. Examples include citrus fruits, coffee beans, and certain palm species.


Understanding the germination behavior of different seed types is crucial for effective seed propagation, storage, and conservation. Orthodox seeds can endure desiccation and long-term storage, while recalcitrant seeds require immediate favorable conditions for germination. Intermediate seeds exhibit characteristics that lie between these two extremes. By considering the specific requirements of each seed type, horticulturists, farmers, and conservationists can optimize their strategies for successful seed germination and plant propagation.