Helianthus eggertii is a rare perennial sunflower of barrens and open habitats in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina in the United States (U.S.). Despite its delisting in the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2005, little is known about the germination biology of H. eggertii other than seeds require cold stratification for optimal germination. Knowledge about the germination biology of rare species can aid in the management of natural populations and inform strategies for ex situ seed conservation and propagation. We examined how cold stratification, light, and temperature interact to affect seed germination in H. eggertii, and whether germination proportions varied among populations. At the time of maturity in October, seeds have primary physiological dormancy and require cold stratification or prolonged (> 8 wk) incubation in light at cool (15/6 C) temperatures to germinate. Seeds maintained a light requirement for germination when cold stratified in darkness, but not after cold stratification in light. However, seeds germinated to lower proportions after cold stratification in light relative to darkness, and when incubated at temperatures that mimic summer (35/20 C) compared to late spring (25/15 C). Germination varied widely among populations (23-58%), with plants from more open sites exhibiting lower germination proportions than those from partially shaded sites. Our results indicate seeds most likely germinate in early- to mid-spring, and light promotes germination of H. eggertii. Our results highlight the interactive role of light and temperature in determining seed dormancy break and germination in H. eggertii.
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