Resource Details

Patterns of seed longevity and germination in the tropical rainforest

Literature: Journal Articles

Vazquez-Yanes, C. & Orozco-Segovia, A. 1993, "Patterns of seed longevity and germination in the tropical rainforest", Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, vol. 24, pp. 69-87.


Centro de Ecologia, UNAM. Apartado 70-275, Ciudad Universitaria, 04510, Mexico


Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics

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Species Info

  • Heliocarpus donnell-smithii
  • Ochroma lagopus (balsa)
  • Acacia spp.
  • Trema spp.
  • Piper spp.
  • Cecropia spp. 
  • Cedrela odorata (cedar)
  • Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany)
  • Brosimum alicastrum


  • This article reviews the factors that affect seed longevity and germination in tropical trees.
  • Seed dormancy varies greatly among tropical trees: Ochroma lagopus (balsa) can remain viable 44 years, while Acacia, Trema, Piper, andCecropia can remain dormant for only a year.  
  • Many seeds have high water content and can germinate quickly (but at the expense of drought tolerance).
  • Cedrela odorata (cedar) and Swietenia macrophylla (mahogany) are wind dispersed seeds with low moisture content, so they often germinate at the beginning of the rainy season.  
  • In Mexico, experiments that artificially irrigated forest soil before the onset of the rainy season induced germination of C. odorata and Brosimum alicastrum
  • Another characteristic is delayed germination (unrelated to moisture balance), where seeds delay more than 20 weeks to germinate (but there can be a lot of variability among one species)
  • Seed coat is a strong determinant of dormancy period and germination - nursery seeds placed in manure can speed germination (because of the heat).  
  • Heat can remove the seed coat, allow water inside, and induce germination: Ochroma lagopus seeds can remain dormant for several years until heat (from a low intensity fire or from canopy opening) induces germination
  • Heliocarpus donnell-smithii in Mexico requires > 10° C daily temperature fluctuation for germination (ie, a tree-fall gap)
  • Germination can also be regulated by light intensity (multiple examples)
  • Litter is also an important factor for germination but has not been studied extensively

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