A pair of reviews in J. Exp. Bot. covers aspects of seed dormancy and germination. Steinbrecher and Leubner-Metzger (10.1093/jxb/erw428) provide an excellent introduction to materials science including stress-strain curves and Young’s Modulus, which they then apply to an understanding of the biophysics of seed germination. What happens when seeds imbibe water? How does the composition of seed tissues (embryo, endosperm, testa, pericarp) underpin the breaking of the seed coat by the emergence of the radicle? The review also explores the evolutionary history of seed biomechanics and its application towards the development of artificial seeds. Penfield and MacGregor (10.1093/jxb/erw436) start earlier in the process of seed development and review how the maternal environment, for example temperature, affects seed dormancy and germination. Mediators of such effects, including gene networks and hormones, are described.