The lens in focus – lens structure in seeds of 51 Australian Acacia species and its implications for imbibition and germination

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Acacia s. str. (Mimosoideae, Fabaceae) is the largest plant genus in Australia (∼1000 species). Its seeds have physical dormancy from a hard, water-impermeable testa. Heat from fire (natural systems) and hot water (nursery production) can break this dormancy. It is often reported that these treatments 'soften' or 'crack' the seed coat, but in practice they only affect a minute part of the seed coat, the lens. We examined lens structure in a wide range of Acacia species to determine what diversity of testa and lens structure was present, if there were differing responses to a hot water dormancy breaking treatment and if there were structural differences between soft- and hard-seeded species. Seed morphology, testa and lens structure were examined before and after hot water treatment (∼90°C for one minute), in 51 species of Australian Acacia from all seven sections, from all states and territories of Australia and from a wide range of environments. Five of the species had been noted to produce non-dormant seed ('soft-seeded' species). Average seed mass per species ranged from 3.1 to 257.9 mg (overall average 24.2 mg, median 13.8 mg). Almost all species had a relatively thick seed coat (average 132.2 μm) with well-developed palisade cells (average 41.5 μm long) and a lens which 'popped' in response to hot water treatment. For 44 species ranging in average seed mass from 3.1 to 43.9 mg (×14 range), the unpopped lens area only ranged ×3 (11480-36040 μm 2). The lens was small (in 88% of species the average length of the unpopped lens was <300 μm) and the unpopped lens area was a minute proportion of seed surface area (average 0.10%). A. harpophylla (soft-seeded species) had a thin testa (37.3 μm) without obvious palisade cells and did not have a functional lens. In hard-seeded species the morphology of the popped lens varied widely, from a simple mound to complete detachment. A functional lens is not a universal feature in all genera of the Mimosoideae, including several species in a genus (Senegalia) previously included in Acacia s. lat. On the basis of the 51 investigated species a lens was present in all Australian acacias, although non-functional in two soft-seeded species. Although the lens was, on average, only ∼1/1000th of the surface area of an Acacia seed and thus easily overlooked, it can have a profound influence on imbibition and germination. An assessment of lens structure, before and after heat treatment, can be of considerable use when interpreting the results of Acacia germination experiments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-413
Number of pages16
JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2018


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