Dormancy in Plants


Dormancy is a strategy of higher plants to survive adverse conditions by pausing growth and development, which can occur in different organs like seeds and buds. Dormancy is controlled both by genetic and environmental factors and most of our knowledge about its regulation has been obtained by studying seeds. Seed dormancy is an important adaptive trait in wild plants and has been under negative selection during domestication. The plant hormone abscisic acid has been shown to play a crucial role in the establishment and maintenance of dormancy, whereas gibberellins promote germination. Additional regulators include reactive oxygen species and epigenetic modifications. Large differences in seed dormancy have been found within species and the identification of the underlying genes revealed several novel genes that specifically regulate dormancy.

Key Concepts

  • Dormancy allows plants to hold life when conditions do not favour growth.
  • Dormancy is one of the main determinants of timing in the plant life cycle.
  • Dormancy is an adaptive trait with strong variation between and within plant species.
  • Dormancy is regulated both by (epi)genetic and environmental factors.
  • The plant hormone abscisic acid has a crucial role in the establishment and maintenance of dormancy.
  • Specific dormancy regulators show haplotype variation in nature.

Keywords: adaptation; after‐ripening; DELAY OF GERMINATION 1; domestication; dormancy; dormancy cycling; environment; epigenetic factors; plant hormones

Figure 1. Dormancy in plants. (a) Seed dormancy in Arabidopsis. The photos show dormant (left) and fully after‐ripened (right) seeds that were imbibed in the light for 3 days. (b) Bud dormancy in Magnolia. The photos show the same bud in a dormant (left) and nondormant (right) state. The photo on the left was taken on 3 February 2016 and the photo on the right on 30 March 2016 in Dansweiler, Germany.
Figure 2. Dormancy in a worldwide population. Dormancy levels in a collection of natural accessions of Arabidopsis. Dormancy is expressed as an after‐ripening requirement (the number of days of seed dry storage required to reach 50% of germination; DSDS50).
Figure 3. Preharvest sprouting in a barley field in the Netherlands observed on 1 September 2010. Seeds attached to their mother plant have germinated due to a combination of low dormancy and high humidity.
Figure 4. Schematic representation of the expression of the DELAY OF GERMINATION 1 (DOG1) gene in different plant tissues. (a) DOG1 expression is presented on the Arabidopsis developmental map. Data retrieved from the Arabidopsis eFP browser at (Winter et al., ). (b) DOG1 expression in presented on the Arabidopsis time series microarrays. Data retrieved from the Wageningen Seed Lab eFP Browser at (Dekkers et al., ).


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Further Reading

Cooke JEK, Eriksson ME and Junttila O (2012) The dynamic nature of bud dormancy in trees: environmental control and molecular mechanisms. Plant, Cell & Environment 35: 1707–1728.

Gazzarrini S and Tsai AYL (2015) Hormone cross talk during seed germination. Essays in Biochemistry 58: 151–164.

Graeber K, Nakabayashi K, Miatton E, Leubner‐Metzger G and Soppe WJJ (2012) Molecular mechanisms of seed dormancy. Plant, Cell & Environment 35: 1769–1786.

Nonogaki H (2014) Seed dormancy and germination – emerging mechanisms and new hypotheses. Frontiers in Plant Science 5: 233.

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How to Cite close
Soppe, Wim JJ, and Bentsink, Leónie(Aug 2016) Dormancy in Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002045.pub2]