The Q&A Archives: Using Acids to Scarify Seed Coats

Question: I am in fourth grade and am doing a science fair project on seeds. My mom always buys your seeds, and said you would know some things about cracking the seed coat on seeds that need it. My project is using different kinds of acid to scarify the seed coat. At my mom's work, she has sulfuric, nitric, hydrochloric, and acetic acid. Will these be too strong? Do you ever use acid to scarify seeds? Thank you. Brad Haslett, MI

Answer: Although it is true that acid is sometimes used by commercial growers to scarify seeds, do not try this yourself. Professionals soak certain seeds in concentrated sulfuric acid as a treatment prior to planting. However, sulfuric acid is a very dangerous substance--it is highly corrosive, will burn your skin on contact, and reacts violently with water. People who use these acids do so in a very controlled environment using protective clothing and goggles. Why not try some of the other treatments used by growers to prepare their seeds. You might try several, and compare the germination rates with untreated seed. Here are a few ideas: Try soaking the seeds overnight in various substances: cold water, hot water, lemon juice or vinegar (slightly acidic). Rub the seeds with sandpaper, or file them gently, to break through the outer seed coat. Chill the seeds for a week in the freezer (this is called stratification, and mimics the winter dormancy many seeds require). Larger seeds areeasiest to handle; you might try various pea, bean, lupine, and nasturtium seeds for this project.

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