Seed ultrastructure and water absorption pathway of the root-parasitic plant Phelipanche aegyptiaca (Orobanchaceae)

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Background and Aims

Obligate root parasitic plants of the Orobanchaceae do not germinate unless they chemically detect a host plant nearby. Members of this family, like Orobanche, Phelipanche and Striga, are noxious weeds that cause heavy damage to agriculture. In spite of their economic impact, only a few light microscopical studies of their minute seeds have been published, and there is no knowledge of their ultrastructure and of the role each tissue plays during the steps preceding germination. This paper describes the ultrastructure of Phelipanche seeds and contributes to our understanding of seed tissue function.


Seeds of P. aegyptiaca were examined under light, scanning electron, transmission electron and fluorescence microscopy following various fixations and staining protocols. The results were interpreted with physiological data regarding mode of water absorption and germination stimulation.

Key Results and Conclusions

The endothelium, which is the inner layer of the testa, rapidly absorbs water. Its interconnected cells are filled with mucilage and contain labyrinthine walls, facilitating water accumulation for germination that starts after receiving germination stimuli. Swelling of the endothelium leads to opening of the micropyle. The perisperm cells underneath this opening mediate between the rhizosphere and the embryo and are likely to be the location for the receptors of germination stimuli. The other perisperm cells are loaded with lipids and protein bodies, as are the endosperm and parts of the embryo. In the endosperm, the oil bodies fuse with each other while they are intact in the embryo and perisperm. Plasmodesmata connect the perisperm cells to each other, and the cells near the micropyle tightly surround the emerging seedling. These perisperm cells, and also the proximal embryo cells, have dense cytoplasmic contents, and they seem to represent the two seed components that are actively involved in transfer of reserve nutrients to the developing seedling during germination.

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