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I'm trying to figure out whether it is better for the plant to reproduce by planting its whole fruits with seeds inside them, or picking the seeds out and planting them without the fruit. In my case it's chili pepper, but I'm also interested in other plants that reproduce through fruits.

I heard that the whole fruit concept is about providing the seeds with some energy in form of their shell (the fruit) to give them a head start in terms of initial growth into a seedling. Is that true? Do all seeds benefit from growing from inside its fruit, or is it not very significant?

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  • $\begingroup$ If your question is purely practical (which fruits are better to plant as seeds or whole), you might have better luck on gardening.SE. If you are interested in the biology side, then this is the place. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Aug 31, 2013 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @kmm What if I'm interested in both? $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2013 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ That's fine. I think this question could be edited to get at the biology. And then ask which seeds to plant how over at gardening. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Aug 31, 2013 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @kmm if you know how to make the question more about the biological aspects, please go ahead and edit. I only have some basic info on that, so I'm not sure I can make the question better myself. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2013 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'd guess that, evolutionary, it would vary greatly depending on the plant. There are many strategies for seed dispersal: some rely on mammals eating your fruiting body, others on birds, others on blowing away in the air or floating in water, usually aided by what we might call the "fruit". $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2013 at 0:31

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I'd argue that this relates to species-specific strategies of seed dispersal, so the answer depends on which species you're asking about. Here's an answer for chili peppers, which I think illustrates how complex and idiosyncratic these strategies can be.

As I mentioned in this answer, the seedsavers' manual Seed to Seed has great info on most plants, including the genus Capsicum (chili peppers). They say to clean the seeds from the peppers, and then dry them thoroughly but not in direct sun.

The Tewksbury lab has done someone amazing work on Capsicum evolution and seed dispersal from a biological standpoint. As published in Tewksbury and Nabhan 2001 (behind paywall, but described well in this Science in the News article) Capsicum fruits have evolved specifically to be eaten by birds, who do not have the receptors that make the fruits taste spicy to us and other mammals.

Essentially then, what you're trying to do when you hand-germinate seeds is to mimic the process of the fruit being eaten and passing through a bird gut. Tewksbury and Nabhan found that seeds from fruits eaten by birds actually germinated at a slightly higher rate than their control group of hand-processed seeds. In contrast, seeds eaten by mammals (who in normal settings totally avoid these spicy chilis) were destroyed and did not germinate.

Seed dispersal mediated by birds and other animals is one way that plants can be motile.


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  • $\begingroup$ I realize that I've come down hard on the "dispersal" side of the issue and that OP also mentions the possibility that fruits help in seed development. I'd love to read/upvote an answer that explores that aspect of the question. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2013 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is the kind of info I was looking for. Let's see if somebody else can answer the "seeds in fruit" part. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2013 at 1:13
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I'm not aware of any plants where the fruit provisions energy to the developing embryo. Generally this type of energy and nutrient storage would be done within the seed. Think of an avocado: both the large pit and the flesh contain a lot of energy, but flesh only serves to attract animals for dispersal, while the developing embryo only gets energy from the pit.

Generally, if you have a big fleshy fruit, it's because there was an adaptation to attract an animal to eat the fruit and disperse the seeds (plus extra breeding by humans to make our common edible fruits). Rather than the flesh of the fruit serving as a fertilizer, the scat associated with that dispersal may serve that purpose.

However, there is an astonishing array of fruits and fruit strategies, and many species do have their seeds dispersed along with their fruits. For example, all grass "seeds" are essentially tiny fruits, where the fruit part is reduced to some protective layers. Sunflower seeds are another example, where the hard shell will protect the seed until it can germinate. Many fruits aid in dispersal by the environment, such as wind or water, or by animals without being eaten, as in burrs.

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