Penetration of light into soil and its role in the control of seed germination



Abstract Light transmitted through soil, and the leaf litter of two tree species, was measured using a spectroradiometer. In general, a greater penetration by longer wavelengths, especially far-red, was noted. This was most marked in a dry sand sample. The effect was less in the case of clay-loam aggregates. Moisture in the samples had an opposite effect in these two cases, causing an increase in transmission through sand but a decrease through clay loam aggregates. Reduction in particle size was found to reduce both the total light transmitted and the red/far-red ratio (R : FR). Red wavelengths were also more attenuated by a layer of freshly fallen oak (Quercus rotrur) leaves than were far-red wavelengths. A layer of Corsican pine (Pinus nigramaritima) needles however, was found to act as a neutral density filter over the 400 800 nm range.

Prolonged exposure to soil-filtered light was found to affect the germination of seven species tested. Plantago major demonstrated an approximately linear decrease in germination with increasing depth. Rumex obtusifotius showed an apparent threshold response at 4 6 mm depth, as did Cecropia obtusifolia but at a slightly greater depth. Digitalis purpurea germinated very poorly in darkness, yet was extremely photosensitive with very high germination even at 10 mm depth. Galiutn aparine and Chenopodium album showed a two-phase response with germination reaching a peak at 2 mm depth.

The implications for the function of the photoreceptor phytochrome in the control of germination are discussed in relation to soil-transmitted light and with regard to the results of the germination tests.