Vernalization (vernalisation - British English) is the acquisition of the competence to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter. The word vernalization comes from the Latin word vernus, meaning of the spring.

Many temperate plants have a vernalization requirement and must experience a period of low winter temperature to initiate or accelerate the flowering process, or, as the case with many fruit tree species, to actually break dormancy, prior to flowering. Many plant species, including winter cereals such as wheat through to Arabidopsis thaliana, must go through a prolonged period of cold before flowering occurs. This ensures that reproductive development and seed production occurs at the optimum environmentally favorable time, normally following the passing of winter. The needed cold is often expressed in chill hours.

Following vernalization, plants have acquired the competence to flower, although they may require additional seasonal cues or weeks of growth before they will actually flower. One of the most important influences that temperature has on the floral transition is the vernalization response. Some plant species do not flower without vernalization. Many biennial species have a vernalization period, which can vary in period and temperature. Typical vernalization temperatures are between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius (40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the much studied model species A. thaliana, the apical meristem, must be vernalized in order to promote flowering. Vernalization of the meristem appears to confer competence to respond to floral inductive signals on the meristem. A vernalized meristem retains competence for as long as 300 days in the absence of an inductive signal. It is possible to de-vernalize a plant by exposure to high temperatures subsequent to vernalization.


During the Lysenkoist period in the Soviet Union, Trofim Lysenko inaccurately asserted that the vernalized state could be inherited--i.e., that the offspring of a vernalized plant would behave as if they themselves had also been vernalized and would not require vernalization in order to flower quickly.

Many of the successes of the "new" agrotechnique employed on a number of agricultural species were either faked by Lysenkoites, or had their roots in extensive manual labor on experimental crops. For example, the vernalized potatoes were usually cut in parts to make more material to seed, cut sides were covered with charcoal to prevent the mold from growing, etc. The cost of human labor was nil, so the vernalized crops seemed more profitable to the state. Later Lysenko himself denounced his idea, carefully phrasing it that "vernalization in mass planning proved nonviable."

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