A characteristic of recalcitrant seeds is that, if they are maintained under storage conditions that prevent water loss, they will ultimately lose viability. A current view is that hydrated recalcitrant seeds are metabolically active and undergo germination-associated changes in storage. Some of these changes, such as extensive vacuolation and increase in cell size, imply a requirement for water additional to that present in the seed on shedding. It is therefore suggested that, in storage, recalcitrant seeds are exposed to an initially mild, but increasingly severe, water stress. Deleterious events associated with a water stress of considerable duration are suggested to lead ultimately to the death of the tissue.
The damage that occurs on prolonged storage is unlikely to be associated with an inability to form glasses or prevent membrane lipid phase changes, as absolute water contents are higher than those at which these mechanisms become important. It is considered that the most likely process leading to death of water-stressed (as opposed to dehydrated) tissue is a breakdown of co-ordination of metabolism, leading to uncontrolled free-radical-mediated oxidative damage.
It is generally difficult to maintain tissue in a mild water-stressed condition for extended periods. Stored, hydrated, recalcitrant seeds may provide an ideal model system for studying the metabolic effects of prolonged mild water stress.