What is a seed? Definition, Function, Structure and Components

Joko Warino S.P M.Si

A seed is the small, matured reproductive structure produced by plants, typically containing an embryo or young plant inside.

Seeds are a crucial part of a plant’s life cycle as they serve as a means of reproduction and dispersal.

They contain all the necessary nutrients and genetic information to develop into a new plant under suitable conditions.

Seeds come in various shapes, sizes, and types, and they play a vital role in agriculture, horticulture, and natural ecosystems.

The Definition of Seeds According to Experts

Here are definitions of seeds according to experts from various fields:

1. Botany (Plant Science)

According to the botanists, a seed is the mature ovule of a plant, consisting of an embryo, a protective seed coat, and usually stored food.

2. Agriculture and Horticulture

In agriculture and horticulture, seeds are defined as the reproductive units of plants that contain the genetic information necessary for growth and development into a new plant under suitable conditions.

3. Seed Technology

Seed technologists consider seeds as a vital planting material that has been processed, tested, and stored to ensure maximum viability and vigor for planting.

4. Genetics and Plant Breeding

In the context of genetics and plant breeding, seeds are carriers of genetic material, enabling the transfer of traits from one generation to the next.

They are essential for breeding improved plant varieties.

5. Ecology

Ecologists view seeds as a means of plant dispersal and regeneration.

Seeds play a critical role in ecological processes such as succession, colonization, and maintaining biodiversity.

6. Seed Industry

In the seed industry, seeds are seen as a commodity produced for agricultural and horticultural purposes.

This perspective emphasizes quality, purity, and genetic potential.

7. Biology and Reproduction

Biologically, seeds are structures produced by sexual reproduction in plants.

They are the result of fertilization between male and female gametes and contain the genetic information for the next generation.

8. Evolutionary Biology

Evolutionary biologists recognize seeds as a significant adaptation that allowed plants to colonize various terrestrial habitats, contributing to the diversification of plant species.

9. Food and Nutrition

In the context of food and nutrition, seeds are often valuable sources of essential nutrients, including proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

10. Economic Importance

Economists and policymakers acknowledge the economic importance of seeds as the foundation of agriculture and food production systems, with global implications for food security.

These definitions highlight the multifaceted nature of seeds across different scientific disciplines and practical applications.

The understanding of seeds varies depending on the context and perspective of the experts in their respective fields.

Function of Plant Seeds

Function of Plant Seeds

The functions of plant seeds include:

  1. Reproduction: Seeds are a means of reproduction for plants. They contain the genetic information needed to develop into new plants and continue the species.
  2. Propagation: Seeds are used for the propagation of plants. By planting seeds, new individuals can be grown, either for cultivation or for ecological restoration.
  3. Dispersal: Many plants have evolved mechanisms for dispersing their seeds away from the parent plant. This helps in colonizing new areas, avoiding competition, and increasing the chances of survival.
  4. Food Storage: Seeds often contain nutrient-rich tissue, called endosperm, that provides nourishment to the developing embryo. This stored food helps the germinating seedling until it can produce its own nutrients through photosynthesis.
  5. Adaptation to Environment: Seeds have adapted to survive harsh environmental conditions, such as drought or cold. Some seeds can remain dormant until conditions are favorable for germination.
  6. Genetic Diversity: Seeds carry genetic information from both parents, contributing to genetic diversity within a plant population. This diversity is essential for adapting to changing environments and evolving resistance to pests and diseases.
  7. Crop Production: Seeds are the basis of crop production in agriculture. Farmers rely on high-quality seeds to grow healthy and productive crops.
  8. Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Seeds contribute to biodiversity and play a key role in maintaining ecosystems. They provide a source of food for wildlife and help in the restoration of disturbed areas.
  9. Research and Plant Breeding: Seeds are crucial for research in genetics, ecology, and plant breeding. They are manipulated in laboratories to create new varieties with desirable traits.
  10. Cultural and Historical Significance: Seeds have cultural and historical importance. They have been used in traditional medicine, rituals, and culinary practices.

In summary, seeds serve multiple vital functions in the plant kingdom, ranging from reproduction and adaptation to supporting ecosystems and human livelihoods.

Structure and Components of Seeds

Seeds are the reproductive structures produced by plants, which contain the embryo of the plant, along with a store of nutrients to support its initial growth.

They play a crucial role in the life cycle of plants by allowing for dispersal and establishment of new individuals.

The structure and components of seeds can vary among different plant species, but they generally consist of several key parts:

1. Seed Coat (Testa)

The seed coat is the outer protective layer of the seed.

It is often hard and resistant to environmental factors, providing physical protection to the embryo within.

The seed coat can have various textures, colors, and patterns depending on the plant species.

2. Embryo

The embryo is the miniature, undeveloped plant enclosed within the seed. It consists of several essential parts:

  • Embryonic Root (Radicle): This is the embryonic root that will develop into the primary root of the plant upon germination.
  • Embryonic Shoot (Plumule): The plumule is the embryonic shoot that will give rise to the plant’s stems and leaves.

3. Cotyledons

Cotyledons are structures that store nutrients and serve as the first leaves of the young plant.

They vary in number and function based on the type of plant:

  • Monocotyledons (Monocots): These plants have a single cotyledon. Examples include grasses and lilies.
  • Dicotyledons (Dicots): These plants have two cotyledons. Examples include beans, sunflowers, and roses.

4. Endosperm

The endosperm is a nutrient-rich tissue that surrounds the embryo and provides nourishment during the early stages of germination.

It is usually consumed by the developing embryo as it grows.

In some seeds, the endosperm persists and remains a source of nutrition even after germination.

5. Seed Food Reserves

Seeds contain stored nutrients that provide energy and sustenance to the developing embryo until it can establish photosynthesis.

These reserves can be stored in the cotyledons or endosperm and may include starches, oils, proteins, and other nutrients.

6. Micropyle

The micropyle is a small pore or opening in the seed coat that allows water and gases to enter the seed, aiding in the process of germination.

7. Hilum

The hilum is a scar on the seed coat where the seed was attached to the plant’s ovary.

It serves as a point of attachment for the seed to the fruit or plant.

8. Seed Dispersal Structures

Many seeds have adaptations for dispersal, which can include features like wings, hooks, or fleshy fruits that aid in their distribution by wind, water, animals, or other means.

The structure and components of seeds can vary significantly between different plant species.

These adaptations have evolved to ensure the survival and successful reproduction of the plants in their respective environments.

Seed Management in Agriculture and Forestry

Seed management is a critical aspect of both agriculture and forestry, as it directly influences the productivity, quality, and sustainability of plant-based systems.

Effective seed management involves various activities from seed production and processing to storage, distribution, and planting.

Here’s how seed management is approached in agriculture and forestry:


  1. Seed Production: High-quality seeds are essential for achieving desired crop yields and characteristics. Seed production involves selecting healthy, genetically superior parent plants, ensuring proper pollination, and preventing cross-contamination to maintain the desired traits.
  2. Seed Processing: After harvest, seeds are cleaned, dried, and processed to remove debris, pathogens, and damaged seeds. This enhances the overall quality and germination rate of the seeds.
  3. Seed Testing: Seed viability and germination tests are conducted to assess the quality of seed lots. This helps determine the percentage of seeds that will successfully germinate and establish healthy plants.
  4. Seed Storage: Proper storage conditions, such as temperature and humidity control, are essential to maintain seed viability and vigor over time. Seeds are often stored in cool, dry environments or in specialized seed banks to preserve genetic diversity.
  5. Seed Treatment: Seeds may be treated with fungicides, insecticides, or other treatments to protect against pests and diseases during germination and early growth stages.
  6. Seed Certification: Seed certification programs ensure that seeds meet established quality standards. Certified seeds have documented genetic purity, germination rates, and absence of pathogens.
  7. Seed Distribution: Efficient distribution networks are established to provide farmers with access to high-quality seeds. This involves coordinating seed shipments, handling logistics, and ensuring timely availability.
  8. Planting Techniques: Farmers need to follow recommended planting techniques to optimize crop establishment and growth. Proper planting depth, spacing, and timing are crucial factors.


  1. Seed Collection: In forestry, seeds are collected from trees and woody plants to establish new forest stands. Seed collection involves selecting trees with desired traits and collecting seeds during their natural seed-bearing season.
  2. Seed Extraction: Seeds are extracted from cones, fruits, or pods, and then cleaned and processed to remove debris and non-viable seeds.
  3. Seed Storage: Like in agriculture, proper seed storage is essential in forestry to maintain seed viability for future reforestation efforts. Specialized storage methods and seed banks are often used to ensure long-term preservation.
  4. Seedling Production: Seeds are germinated and grown into seedlings in nurseries. These seedlings are then planted in reforestation and afforestation projects.
  5. Reforestation and Afforestation: The planting of seedlings or direct seeding of collected seeds in deforested or degraded areas helps restore forest ecosystems and combat deforestation.
  6. Seed Zone Concepts: To ensure that tree populations are well-suited to their planting sites, seed zones are established based on the adaptation of tree species to specific climatic and environmental conditions.

Effective seed management practices contribute to sustainable agriculture and forestry by ensuring the availability of high-quality planting material, maintaining genetic diversity, improving crop yields, and restoring ecosystems.

The Importance of Seed Diversity

Seed diversity, also known as genetic diversity or biodiversity, refers to the variety of genetic material within a population of plants.

This diversity is a crucial component of healthy and sustainable ecosystems, and it holds significant importance for various aspects of agriculture, food security, environmental resilience, and scientific research.

Here are some key reasons why seed diversity is so important:

  1. Adaptation to Changing Environments: Genetic diversity allows plant populations to adapt to changing environmental conditions such as climate shifts, disease outbreaks, and evolving pest pressures. Plants with a wider range of genetic traits are more likely to have individuals that can withstand and thrive in new or challenging conditions.
  2. Crop Resilience: In agriculture, diverse seed stocks provide a buffer against crop failure. If a particular variety is susceptible to a disease or pest, other resistant varieties can be relied upon for continued production. This reduces the risk of large-scale crop losses.
  3. Pest and Disease Resistance: Different plant varieties possess varying levels of resistance to pests and diseases. By maintaining a diverse range of seed options, farmers can choose varieties that are naturally resilient to local pests, reducing the need for chemical interventions.
  4. Nutritional Diversity: Different plant varieties offer a variety of nutritional profiles. Seed diversity allows for the cultivation of crops with diverse nutrient content, helping to combat malnutrition and provide a balanced diet.
  5. Preserving Traditional Knowledge: Many indigenous and traditional communities have developed local crop varieties that are well-suited to their specific environments. Preserving seed diversity ensures that these unique genetic resources and the associated knowledge are not lost.
  6. Breeding and Research: Seed diversity serves as a genetic library for plant breeders and researchers. New crop varieties can be developed by crossing different varieties to combine desirable traits, such as high yield, disease resistance, and nutritional content.
  7. Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: As climate change alters growing conditions, seed diversity becomes critical for developing and deploying climate-resilient crops that can thrive under new climatic regimes.
  8. Ecosystem Health: Biodiverse ecosystems are more stable and resilient. In natural environments, diverse plant species contribute to overall ecosystem health, supporting pollinators, wildlife, and nutrient cycling.
  9. Cultural and Aesthetic Value: Different plant varieties have cultural and aesthetic significance. Maintaining diverse seed stocks helps preserve cultural heritage and ensures that aesthetically unique plants continue to exist.
  10. Conservation: Many plant species are threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. Conserving diverse seeds through seed banks and preservation programs is essential for safeguarding these species for future generations.
  11. Resilience to Global Challenges: Seeds that are adapted to specific local conditions may prove to be more resilient in the face of global challenges like pandemics, economic instability, and geopolitical shifts.

Overall, seed diversity is a vital resource that underpins sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and the resilience of ecosystems and human communities.

Efforts to conserve and promote seed diversity contribute to the long-term well-being of both the natural world and human society.


In conclusion, the significance of seed diversity cannot be overstated. As a cornerstone of biodiversity, it plays a pivotal role in ensuring the health and sustainability of ecosystems, the resilience of agriculture, and the well-being of humanity.

Seed diversity empowers us to tackle challenges ranging from changing climates and evolving pests to food security and nutritional diversity.

By preserving and cultivating a wide range of plant varieties, we secure the genetic resources needed to adapt to the uncertainties of the future.

Diverse seed stocks not only offer practical solutions for farmers, but they also uphold cultural traditions, provide opportunities for scientific exploration, and contribute to the beauty and stability of our natural world.

However, this diversity is not guaranteed. Human activities, including monoculture farming, habitat destruction, and climate change, threaten the very diversity that sustains us.

To safeguard seed diversity, we must support initiatives that promote seed conservation, encourage the use of heirloom and traditional varieties, and advocate for policies that prioritize genetic resilience.

In a rapidly changing world, where challenges are global and interconnected, nurturing seed diversity is an investment in our shared future.

It is a commitment to the continued abundance and adaptability of the natural world and an affirmation of our responsibility to safeguard the legacy of genetic richness for generations to come.



Joko Warino S.P M.Si

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Joko Warino, a lecturer at one of the universities in Indonesia (Faculty of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, UIN Suska Riau Indonesia). My field of expertise is soil science.

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