The natural history of soil seed banks of arable land

Carol C. Baskin, Jerry M. Baskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


This article briefly reviews how long weed seeds can live in the soil and what happens to them during burial. Freshly matured seeds of many weeds are water-permeable, but those of others are water-impermeable. Water-permeable seeds may have morphological, physiological, or morphophysiological dormancy, with physiological dormancy (PD) being the one most commonly found in buried weed seeds. Further, nondeep PD is very common in buried weed seeds, and many of them exhibit annual dormancy cycles in response to seasonal temperature changes. The time of year when seeds are nondormant varies with the species, i.e., autumn, spring, or spring to summer. A light requirement for germination plays an important role in preventing nondormant seeds from germinating in the soil. To germinate, soil disturbance that exposes seeds to light must occur at a time of year when seeds are nondormant. Buried seeds of some species come out of dormancy and remain nondormant regardless of seasonal changes in environmental conditions; however, a light requirement for germination prevents them from germinating in the soil. Water-impermeable seeds have either physical dormancy (PY) or a combination of PY and PD, with PY being the most common, e.g., in members of the Fabaceae and Malvaceae. Seeds with PY have a water gap in the seed coat that opens in response to an environmental signal, thereby allowing water to enter. When disturbance brings seeds to the soil surface, temperatures that are higher than those in the soil can cause the water gap to open. Consequently, the water gap indirectly serves as a depth sensor. A challenge for the future is to use information about buried weed seeds to better manage weeds in crops, and modeling is an important step in that direction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-557
Number of pages9
JournalWeed Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Buried weed seeds
  • Dormancy cycling
  • Physical dormancy
  • Physiological dormancy
  • Weed emergence modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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