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Seed Coat: Definition & Function

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  • 0:01 What Is a Seed Coat?
  • 0:32 Function of a Seed Coat
  • 1:37 Seed Coats and Germination
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brekke Peterson Munks
In this lesson, we'll take a look at the seed coat and how it works. We'll explore what a seed coat looks like, how it protects a seed, and why it is so very important to the successful germination of a plant embryo.

What Is a Seed Coat?

Have you ever heard or seen a seed coat? Maybe the last time you opened a bag of beans, the dark paper coating on the seed fell off. This papery skin is called the seed coat, or the outer layer of a seed.

The seed coat is one of three parts of a seed, in addition to the endosperm, or the food storage area of the seed, as well as the plant embryo. Seed coats on alfalfa, radish, and lettuce seeds or beans happen to be dark, while the coats on corn, peas, and squash tend to be light.

Function of a Seed Coat

The number one function of a seed coat is similar to that of the protective gear worn by people in high-risk lines of work: to make sure the seed doesn't come to any harm. What kind of harm do seeds encounter? Well, seeds can be damaged when planting from crushing or insertion into the ground. They can also be hurt during insect or microbial attacks after planting or during storage.

A seed also needs protection from water, heat, and freezing that can affect its ability to mature into a plant. For example, the seed coat keeps too much water from reaching the internal seed structures, as well as prevents these structures from drying out. The seed coat also provides a degree of insulation and protection from sub-freezing temperatures. In addition, the very thick seed coats found on a lot of tree nuts keep the seed from burning during a fire.

Most importantly, the seed coat also protects the endosperm and plant embryo, the part of the seed that will mature into a plant, from being scratched, bruised, or hurt. Key to the seed coat's protective quality is the fibrous material that contributes to its ridge-like appearance.

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