Cowcockle, an introduced summer annual weed of the Northern Great Plains, is being considered for domestication because of its high quality starch, cyclopeptides, and saponins. Loss of seed dormancy is one of the key desirable traits for domestication. To determine the potential for domestication of this species, an understanding of the seed dormancy and germination patterns is required. The objectives of this study were to evaluate seed dormancy in cowcockle ecotypes and determine how temperature and light affect seed dormancy. We evaluated 15 populations of cowcockle for primary dormancy by exposing them to five temperatures (5, 7.5, 10, 15, and 20 C) under two temperature regimes (constant and alternating) in both dark and light conditions. Freshly matured seeds of all the populations showed high levels of primary dormancy except ‘Mongolia’. Lower levels of dormancy at medium temperatures (10 and 15 C) and greater dormancy at low and high temperatures suggest conditional dormancy, a state at which seeds germinate over a narrower range of conditions compared to nondormant seeds. The effects of temperature regime, light, and their interaction was significant only at suboptimal (5 and 7.5 C) and supraoptimal (20 C) temperatures. Under these conditions, alternating temperatures were more effective in breaking the conditional dormancy, followed by light. The variation in optimum temperature, light, and their interactions among the cowcockle populations may be due to the plants evolving to adapt to their local environments. From a domestication perspective, the conditional dormancy in cowcockle can be observed as an evolutionary mechanism that prevents untimely germination following maturity and may not be a major obstacle for its domestication.
Nomenclature: Cowcockle, Vaccaria hispanica (P. Mill.) Rauschert, VAPPY.