Quercus robur L. fruits are desiccation sensitive and shed from the plant at high moisture content (c. 48%). Water relations measurements were taken at intervals during the germination of prematurely-harvested immature fruits and naturally-shed mature fruits. In fruits from both harvests the pericarp and seed coat delayed germination by providing physical barriers to emergence of the radicle and by restricting the rate of imbibition. Although immature fruits could germinate in the absence of water they germinated more rapidly in the presence of an external water supply. The fully-mature fruit required a supply of external water, but germination was more rapid than in immature fruits. Substantial physiological changes, resulting in the accumulation of solutes, and increased axis size and extensibility occurred before splitting of the pericarp and subsequent germination of immature fruits. Such changes did not occur in fully-mature fruits, but fruits, from both harvests imbibed water and splitting of the pericarp appeared to result from increased embryo size and tissue pressure. Splitting was minimal prior to germination in immature fruits without an external water supply. It is suggested that the resulting reduction in Ψp when the pericarp splits was greater in the axis than in the cotyledons because of its greater capacity for expansion. This would create a Ψw gradient driving water flow to the axis from the cotyledons allowing continued radicle growth for germination.
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