Pollen and seed desiccation tolerance in relation to degree of developmental arrest, dispersal, and survival

G. G. Franchi, B. Piotto, M. Nepi, C. C. Baskin, J. M. Baskin, E. Pacini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


In most species, arrest of growth and a decrease in water content occur in seeds and pollen before they are dispersed. However, in a few cases, pollen and seeds may continue to develop (germinate). Examples are cleistogamy and vivipary. In all other cases, seeds and pollen are dispersed with a variable water content (2-70%), and consequently they respond differently to environmental relative humidity that affects dispersal and maintenance of viability in time. Seeds with low moisture content shed by the parent plant after maturation drying can generally desiccate further to moisture contents in the range of 1-5% without damage and have been termed 'orthodox'. Pollen that can withstand dehydration also was recently termed orthodox. Seeds and pollen that do not undergo maturation drying and are shed at relatively high moisture contents (30-70%) are termed 'recalcitrant'. Since recalcitrant seeds and pollen are highly susceptible to desiccation damage, they cannot be stored under conditions suitable for orthodox seeds and pollen. Hence, there are four types of plants with regard to tolerance of pollen and seeds to desiccation. Orthodoxy allows for dispersal over greater distances, longer survival, and greater resistance to low relative humidity. The advantage of recalcitrance is fast germination. Orthodoxy and recalcitrance are often related to environment rather than to systematics. It has been postulated that certain types of genes are involved during presentation and dispersal of pollen and seeds, since molecules (sucrose, polyalcohols, late embryogenic abundant proteins, antioxidants, etc.) that protect different cell compartments during biologically programmed drying have been detected in both.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5267-5281
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number15
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Desiccation tolerance/sensitivity
  • orthodox and recalcitrant pollen
  • orthodox and recalcitrant seeds
  • pollen germination
  • pollen presentation
  • pollen water content
  • pollination
  • seed dispersal
  • seed germination
  • seed water content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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