Differences amongst wheat cultivars in the rate of reproductive development are largely dependent on differences in their sensitivity to photoperiod and vernalization. However, when these responses are accounted for, by growing vernalized seedlings under long photoperiods, cultivars can still differ markedly in time to ear emergence. Control of rate of development by this ‘third factor’ has been poorly understood and is variously referred to as intrinsic earliness, earliness in the narrow sense, basic vegetative period, earliness per se, and basic development rate. Certain assumptions are made in the concept of intrinsic earliness. They are that differences in intrinsic earliness (i) are independent of the responses of the cultivars to photoperiod and vernalization, (ii) apply only to the length of the vegetative period up to floral initiation (as suggested by several authors), (iii) are maintained under different temperatures, measured either in days or degree days. As a consequence of this, the ranking of cultivars (from intrinsically early to intrinsically late) must be maintained at different temperatures. This paper, by the re-analysis of published data, examines the extent to which these assumptions can be supported.
Although it is shown that intrinsic earliness operates independently of photoperiod and vernalization responses, the other assumptions were not supported. The differences amongst genotypes in time to ear emergence, grown under above-optimum vernalization and photoperiod (that is when the response to these factors is saturated), were not exclusively due to parallel differences in the length of the vegetative phase, and the length of the reproductive phase was independent of that of the vegetative phase. Thus, it would be possible to change the relative allocation of time to vegetative and reproductive periods with no change in the full period to ear emergence.
The differences in intrinsic earliness between cultivars were modified by the temperature regime under which they were grown, i.e. the difference between cultivars (both considering the full phase to ear emergence or some sub-phases) was not a constant amount of time or thermal time at different temperatures. In addition, in some instances genotypes changed their ranking for ‘intrinsic earliness’ depending on the temperature regime. This was interpreted to mean that while all genotypes are sensitive to temperature they differ amongst themselves in the extent of that sensitivity.
Therefore, ‘intrinsic earliness’ should not be considered as a static genotypic characteristic, but the result of the interaction between the genotype and temperature. Intrinsic earliness is therefore likely to be related to temperature sensitivity. Some implications of these conclusions for plant breeding and crop simulation modelling are discussed.