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Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni is a perennial shrub of the Asteraceae family native to Paraguay and Brazil where it has been used for several years as a sweetener. It is a short-day species, with a critical light requirement for flowering of roughly 13 hours. In plants whose biological cycle is strongly photoperiod-dependent, latitude is one of the major factors influencing reproduction. Late flowering may adversely affect seed production if this occurs during a season that is unfavorable to pollination. At Italian latitudes, this species often gives scanty seed production, with low germination rate and poor germination energy of seeds produced. In 2001 four accessions have been grown for seed production in a field plot experiment in Central Italy. The various accessions were found to exhibit noticeably different photoperiod requirements, which affected flowering time (from late August to the end of September) and consequently also the conditions of achene filling and ripening. Late flowering and seed ripening occurred during autumn season, unfavourable to complete seed formation, leading to an increase in the empty seed percentage recorded for each accession. Detailed germination trials were therefore undertaken using seeds collected from plants of the different accessions in order to assess the quality of the seeds produced. Various germination methods have been tested in a controlled environment adopting four different temperatures (20° C, 25° C constant temperature and 15/25° C, 20/30° C (16/8h) alternating temperature) in light or darkness with or without pre-chilling. Germination rates varied over an extensive range (germination percentage from 9 to 83%), mainly due to the divergent specific characteristics of the material examined and the different treatments studied. At all temperatures tested, the most earlier accession, showed the higher germination percentages (54-83%) while the latest accession was among those with the lowest germination values (9-44%). Overall, at the constant temperatures assayed, pre-chilling gave a higher germination percentage as compared to no pre-chilling, while at alternating temperatures higher germination rates were obtained in the absence of pre-chilling. The great variability observed between accessions for photoperiodic requirement as well as in seed germinative characteristics was probably due to the fact that this species was not subjected to any genetic improvement program.
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