This may seem like a very basic biological question, if a plant can emerge from a seed then of course it’s alive. But how is it alive? It doesn’t appear to undergo photosynthesis to respire or metabolise. I guess this question becomes more “legitimate” when you realise seeds can last hundreds of years. In the exceptional case of the Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) they can last thousands.
As we can all guess, seeds are indeed alive. The tissues inside of a seed do appear to be active before the seed has germinated. Each seed contains the embryo of the plant as well as a “cotyledon”. No that’s not the name of a dinosaur, but a fancy term for a food store. This food storage is what allows the seed to “live” for so long without needing to photosynthesize. Please see my wondrous, MoMA worthy illustration of the inside of a dicot angiosperm seed.
I guess by now your next question is, “so what does the Scared Lotus do that allows its seeds to live so ridiculously long?” According to Shen-Miller, et al (1995) , the lotus’ “seeds” are actually more like fruit (yes it’s edible, but only if you’re in the mood to chew on something as hard as a rock). Because fruits are typically fleshy (yes I had to use that word) you’d think it would rot faster, but lotus fruit walls are, in the authors’ words, “impervious” (Shen-Miller et al, 1995). They’re so tough, that if you want to grow lotus, this seller recommends scarring and sanding down the fruit wall until you see the inside before you plant it in water. Take a look at some lovely sacred lotus fruit below. If you, like myself are a trypophobe…LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY.
Yep. That flower makes these fruit.
Shen-Miller, J., Mudgett, M.B., Schopf, J.W., Clark, S. and Berger, R. 1995. Exceptional Seed Longevity and Robust Growth: Ancient Sacred Lotus from China. Am. J. Bot. 82(11): 1367-1380.