What Are Mucilaginous Seeds? – 4 Tricks To Grow Them

Mucilaginous is a word you come across often when reading microgreen articles. Many microgreens have mucilaginous seeds, but what does this mean for the microgreen grower?

This article will explain what mucilage is as well as how best to grow microgreens with mucilaginous seeds.

The cover image to this article shows Genovese Basil seeds after they've been wetted showing the mucilage. Those seeds grew the harvested basil below.

What are microgreens

Mucilaginous Seeds

Let's start by pronouncing mucilaginous. Pronunciation or reading phonetic notation -  ˌmyü-sə-ˈla-jə-nəs - is not my jam, so I always defer to this lady - Click to visit Merriam Webster pronunciation page for mucilaginous.

Mucilage is a gelatinous substance secreted by plants composed of proteins and polysaccharides. Mucilaginous is an adjective that modifies mucilage, meaning "full of" or "secreting" mucilage.

basil seeds are mucilaginous

The whitish substance around these Genovese Basil seeds is mucilage. The jelly-like substance forms quickly on seeds. 

For example, look at the two photos below. Both trays contain Red Rubin Basil microgreen seeds. The first photo is of the planted seeds before the seeds were sprayed with water. 

According to the data recorded by my camera, the second photo was shot three minutes after the first. So almost immediately after being wetted (I had to put the camera down, spray the seeds, and take the next photo) the seeds secrete mucilage.

Click any image in this article to expand it for better viewing.

basil seeds
red rubin basil seeds planted

What is the Purpose of Mucilaginous Seeds?

The short answer is protection.

One apparent reason, based on how quickly the mucilage forms, is to retain moisture around the seed.

The gel could also regulate the amount of moisture that reaches the seed and growing embryo. The polysaccharides will put water to it when available as it dries and repeals water once it reaches its saturation point. 

There many other possible purposes for mucilage too. Such as, the gel holds onto soil particles for the seeds, protection for UV rays, and maybe the most interesting is allelopathy. 

In allelopathy, the mucilaginous seed gel secretes chemicals that influence the germination and growth of neighboring seeds and plants.

Not in a good way for the neighboring seeds. The biochemicals would retard the growth of the adjacent seeds and plants giving the mucilaginous seed an early growth advantage.

The mucilage could also deter other organisms from consuming the seed and young plant.

growing basil

Mucilaginous Microgreen Varieties

According to Wikipedia, nearly all plant seeds produce mucilage to some extent.

The microgreens that produce enough to be visible are:

  • Basil;
    Radish (minor);
    Chia (that's why they grow on chia pets so well!); and
    Some mustards.
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Tricks to Growing Mucilaginous Seeds

Often mucilaginous microgreens are labeled harder to grow. Below are some methods that will make it easier for you grow these microgreens.

The first suggestion to growing mucilaginous seeds is to not pre-soak them. In fact, there are a lot of microgreens that growers suggest to be pre-soaked, but we've found that practice to be unnecessary.

Soaking them would make a gelatinous mess.

Second, spread the seeds out evenly. If it's true that seed mucilage produces growth retarding biochemicals any seeds touching each other may hinder each others growth.

Third, don't spray them with water after the initial misting.

The mucilage will provide more than enough moisture for the seeds to germinate and start growing. They may also draw moisture from the pre-wetted soil surface.

Fourth, leave them alone and don't check on them as frequently while they germinate.

We've found that mucilaginous seeds are very sticky and they adhere to the tray covers.

When you lift the cover, the seeds stick to it and increase the chance of killing the seeding. Especially if weight is added to the top of the trays.

Leave them be for several days and let the seeds germinate and start growing before you check on them.

We will test if it's better to grow mucilaginous seeds with a raised cover. Basil will probably be the test subject. 

Hopefully, these suggestions will make it easier for you to grow these microgreens.

What is Your Experience with These Varieties?

Let us know if you've had problems or good luck growing mucilaginous seeds by leaving a comment below.

If you have any questions about the information in this post or microgreens in general, please leave a comment below or reach out to me using the Ask a Question page

Leaving a comment or using the Ask a Question page does not add your email to any mailing or marketing list. 

We'd love to hear from you.

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Author of this Article is Todd

Todd is the founder of Home Microgreens & the Home Microgreens store. He also writes for several other websites, including MakeGardeningEasy.com. Todd worked at a large farm market, garden & nursery center for 20-years. Somehow he snuck off to become a geologist and professor before coming back to his senses to write & lecture about microgreens and gardening. When not at the computer, he can be found in the garden, trout stream, or mountain trail with his new Springer Spaniel Caden.

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  • Hi, thanks so much for the article! Can you clarify what you mean when you say “ Third, don’t spray them with water after the initial soak.” You recommended not to presoak, so does this mean to wet the soil, spray the seeds once you’ve placed them and THEN don’t spray them for a few days while they are weighted?
    Also, have you any recommendations for growing arugula? I have tried but find that the mucilaginous coating makes the husks stick to my arugula stems, which I find unappealing to eat. Any tips on how to avoid having the husks stick this way? I am planting in ProMix HP, no weight, 6 days blackout (to try to get them taller in this cooler weather), grow lights. My harvest height was about 1.5 inches tall.

    • Hi Debbie,
      Bad choice of words. I changed the text. You are correct; wet the soil, mist the seeds with a spray bottle, and then leave them alone. The next time they are watered is when they come out of the blackout and are bottom watered.
      I’ll do an arugula article soon; just put it on the list. I grow arugula just like I do amaranth. A link is below. I use the dome method, which I will also do an article on soon. The dome allows the plants to grow taller before they go under the light. Arugula tends not to grow much taller once the light hits it. Not sure why it grows taller in the garden. Maybe the sunlight has more energy or LED’s don’t have the wavelengths it needs. Not sure. Anyway, I let it grow until it touches the top of the dome, then place it under the light. I use the watering tray as a dome.
      I hope this helps. Here’s the amaranth article.

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