The optimum temperature for maize germination is between 25 and 28°C. Poor and erratic germination at suboptimal temperature is the most important hindrance in its early sowing. This study was conducted to induce chilling tolerance in hybrid maize (Zea mays L.) by seed priming with salicylic acid (SA) and to unravel the background biochemical basis. For seed priming, maize hybrid (Hycorn 8288) seeds were soaked in 50, 100 and 150 ppm (mg l-1) aerated solutions of SA for 24 h and were dried back. Treated and untreated seeds were sown at 27°C (optimal temperature) and at 15°C (chilling stress) under controlled conditions. Performance of maize seedlings was hampered under chilling stress. But seed priming with SA improved the seedling emergence, root and shoot length, seedling fresh and dry weights, and leaf and root score considerably compared with control both at optimal and chilling temperatures. However, priming in 50 mg l-1 SA solution was more effective, followed by priming in 100 mg l-1 SA solution. Seed priming with SA improved the chilling tolerance in hybrid maize mainly by the activation of antioxidants (including catalase, superoxide dismutase and ascorbate peroxidase). Moreover, maintenance of high tissue water contents and reduced membrane permeability also contributed towards chilling tolerance.
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