The occurrence of various species of Brassicaceae with indehiscent fruits in the cold deserts of NW China suggests that there are adaptive advantages of this trait. We hypothesized that the pericarp of the single-seeded silicles of Isatis violascens restricts embryo expansion and thus prevents germination for 1 or more years. Thus, our aim was to investigate the role of the pericarp in seed dormancy and germination of this species. The effects of afterripening, treatment with gibberellic acid (GA3) and cold stratification on seed dormancy-break were tested using intact silicles and isolated seeds, and germination phenology was monitored in an experimental garden. The pericarp has a role in mechanically inhibiting germination of fresh seeds and promotes germination of nondormant seeds, but it does not facilitate formation of a persistent seed bank. Seeds in silicles in watered soil began to germinate earlier in autumn and germinated to higher percentages than isolated seeds. Sixty-two percent of seeds in the buried silicles germinated by the end of the first spring, and only 3% remained nongerminated and viable. Twenty to twenty-five percent of the seeds have nondeep physiological dormancy (PD) and 75-80% intermediate PD. Seeds with nondeep PD afterripen in summer and germinate inside the silicles in autumn if the soil is moist. Afterripening during summer significantly decreased the amount of cold stratification required to break intermediate PD. The presence of both nondeep and intermediate PD in the seed cohort may be a bet-hedging strategy.

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Published in PLOS One, v. 10, no. 10, article e0140983, p. 1-16.

© 2015 Zhou et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

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This work was supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41361011, 31160063), the Key Project of Chinese Ministry of Education (213038A) and the Major National Scientific Research Program of China (2014CB954202). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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