Purdue University Department of Agronomy

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Originally published May 2000, Updated Apr 2010
URL: http://www.kingcorn.org/news/timeless/GerminationEvents.html

Visual Indicators of Germination in Corn

R.L. (Bob) Nielsen
Agronomy Dept., Purdue Univ.
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054
Email address: rnielsen at purdue.edu

ermination is the renewal of enzymatic activity that results in cell division and elongation and, ultimately, embryo emergence through the seed coat. Germination is triggered by absorption of water through the seed coat. Corn kernels must absorb (imbibe) about 30 % of their weight in water before germination begins. Less than optimum absorption of water (perhaps due to a rapidly drying seed zone) may slow or stop germination.  Repeated wetting and drying cycles can decrease seed viability.

By comparison, soybeans must imbibe about 50 % of their weight in water.  But since soybeans are approximately 2/3 the weight of corn kernels, the total amount of absorbed water required for germination is relatively similar.

The visual indicators of germination occur in a distinct sequence. The radicle root emerges first, near the tip end of the kernel, within two to three days in warm soils with adequate moisture or much longer if soil temperatures hover at or below 50F (10C).  In cooler or drier soils, the radicle root may not emerge until one to two weeks after planting. 

The coleoptile (commonly called the “spike”) emerges next from the embryo side of the kernel within one to many days of the appearance of the radicle, depending on soil temperature.  The coleoptile initially negotiates its way toward the dent end of the kernel by virtue of the elongation of the mesocotyl. The coleoptile is a rigid piece of plant tissue that completely encloses the four to five embryonic leaves (plumule) that formed during grain development of the seed production year.  The plumule leaves slowly enlarge and eventually cause the coleoptile to split open as it nears the soil surface.

The lateral seminal roots emerge next and initially elongate towards the dent end of the kernel. Even though these roots and the radicle root are technically nodal roots, they do not comprise what is typically referred to as the permanent nodal root system. The first set of so-called “permanent” roots begins elongating from the first node at the crown of the seedling at approximately the V1 leaf stage (1 leaf with visible leaf collar) and are clearly visible by V2.

Pre-emergence seedling
[ More images ]

Troubleshooting Considerations

When temperatures are optimum, these three parts of the seedling may emerge from the kernel on nearly the same day.  Excessively cool soils may delay the appearance of the coleoptile and lateral seminal roots for more than a week after the radicle root emerges.  It is not uncommon in cold planting seasons to dig up kernels two weeks after planting and find only short radicle roots and no visible coleoptiles.

When excessively cold and/or wet soils delay germination and/or emergence, the kernel and young seedling are subjected to lengthier exposure to damaging factors such as soil-borne seed diseases, insect feeding and injury from pre-plant or pre-emergent herbicides and carryover herbicides from a previous crop

Related References

Hick, Dale and Seth Naeve. Date unknown. The Corn Growers Field Guide For Evaluating Crop Damage And Replant Options. Univ. of Minnesota Ext. Service. [On-Line]. Available at http://www.soybeans.umn.edu/pdfs/CornGuide.pdf. [URL accessed April 2010].

Nielsen, RL (Bob). 2010. Requirements for Uniform Germination and Emergence of Corn. Corny News Network, Purdue Univ. [On-Line]. Available at http://www.kingcorn.org/news/timeless/GermEmergReq.html. [URL accessed April 2010].

Nielsen, RL (Bob). 2010. The Emergence Process in Corn. Corny News Network, Purdue Univ. [On-Line]. Available at  http://www.kingcorn.org/news/timeless/Emergence.html. [URL accessed April 2010].

Ritchie, S.W., J.J. Hanway, and G.O. Benson. 1993. How a Corn Plant Develops (SP-48). Iowa State Univ. [On-Line]. Available at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/hancock/info/corn.htm. [URL accessed April 2010].