Background : Water uptake is essential for seed germination. However, Gleditsia sinensis seeds have a water-impermeable seed coat, which is beneficial for its adaption to the environment, but prohibits its germination without treatment. This feature may be associated with the structure of the seed coat. Thus, the aim of this research was to identify and describe the initial water uptake site and water movement and to determine the relationship between seed coat structure and water absorption.
Results: A water temperature of 80 °C was optimal to break the hardseededness of G. sinensis seeds. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images revealed that the seed coat consisted of a palisade layer and light line that can hinder water entry into the seed. Also, a structure of vascular bundles existed in the 8hilar region. Hot water treatment caused the tightly closed micropyle to open and the cavity beneath it expanded; the layer of palisade cells in the lens was raised. The embryo dye-tracking tests showed that the radicle tip was the initial region to be stained red. After staining for 24 h, the red-stained area on the vascular bundle side of cotyledon was more extensive than that on the other side. Further studies by MRI maps indicated that the micropyle was the initial site for water imbibition. Some water then migrated along the space between the seed coat and the endosperm to the chalazal; simultaneously, the rest of the water reached the embryonic axis and spread into cotyledons. The maps of 20-24 h showed that water was unevenly distributed within the cotyledons in a way that the edge parts were more hydrated than the center. Blocking tests showed that the hilar region was the initial and an important region during seed imbibition. The medial region and chalazal portion were capable of imbibing water when the hilar region was blocked, but water absorption was later and slower than that through the hilar region.
Conclusion: MRI technology provides a promising and non-invasive technique to identify the water gap and the path of water movement in the seed. Combined with the results of SEM, we can infer the relation between seed coat and its imbibition.