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Seed Scarification and Veteran Healing: Understanding the Process of Breaking Down Barriers

Have you ever tried to plant a seed and found yourself frustrated when it refused to sprout? Well, I have a confession to make: I once spent an entire afternoon yelling at a patch of bare earth where uncooperative sunflower seeds were laying dormant. It wasn't until I took a plant propagation class at Fullerton College, where I learned about the magic of scarification, that I finally got those stubborn little guys to grow. But it got me thinking – if seeds need a little tough love to grow, maybe I could benefit from a similar process. Stick with me and let's explore the traumatic processes seeds need to germinate and the serious business of post-traumatic growth for veterans.



Newly sprouted onions with the seed coating still attached to some.
Newly sprouted onions with the seed coating still attached to some.

Scarification is the process of breaking down the seed coat or outer layer of a seed to allow for water absorption and germination. There are several different mechanisms of scarification, including:

  1. Physical scarification: This involves physically breaking, scratching, or rubbing the seed coat to weaken it and allow water to penetrate. Some seeds with hard coats, such as those of certain legumes, nuts, and woody plants, may require physical scarification.

  2. Thermal scarification: This involves subjecting the seeds to high temperatures, such as by boiling, baking, or using hot water or flames. This can help soften the seed coat and promote germination. Some examples of seeds that may require thermal scarification include those of some California native plants, such as manzanita and toyon.

  3. Chemical scarification: This involves treating the seeds with chemicals, such as concentrated sulfuric acid or hydrogen peroxide, to break down the seed coat. This can be a dangerous process and should only be attempted by experienced individuals with appropriate safety equipment. Some seeds that may require chemical scarification include those of certain Australian native plants, such as banksias and hakeas that require exposure to acidic soils.

  4. Biological scarification: This involves using natural means, such as digestion by animals or exposure to weathering, to break down the seed coat. Some seeds, such as those of certain species of legumes and grasses, have evolved to rely on natural scarification mechanisms for germination.

Similarly, when a veteran undergoes a traumatic experience, they may develop a tough coating of emotional and psychological barriers. These barriers are created as a coping mechanism to protect them from further harm, but also prevent them from growing and moving forward.


A heat mat, artificial lighting and humidity trays help to make conditions favorable for seed germination.
In our seed starting cabinet, a heat mat, artificial lighting and humidity trays help to make conditions favorable for seed germination.

Just like scarification breaks the outer layer of the seed, veterans need to break through their emotional and psychological barriers to start post traumatic growth and healing. This can be done through peer support, therapy, support groups, or other forms of treatment. For some that can be working in the garden and observing nature.


In both cases, the process of breaking down barriers can be difficult and painful, but it is necessary for growth and healing to occur. And just as scarification helps seeds to grow into strong plants, the healing process can help veterans to become stronger and more resilient individuals.


Agritherapy peer support can help veterans break down barriers to post-traumatic growth by providing a supportive community, offering a sense of purpose and accomplishment, reducing stress and anxiety, encouraging mindfulness and self-reflection, and fostering a sense of hope and resilience.


A few common seeds. Even the smallest seed brings lots of hope!
A few common seeds. Even the smallest seed brings lots of hope!

"Horticultural therapy provides a unique opportunity for veterans to experience post-traumatic growth through engagement in meaningful activity, social connection, and the restorative power of nature. Working with plants and the earth can help to heal the wounds of war and promote resilience, purpose, and connection in the lives of veterans.", Wise, J. (2017). Digging for Victory: Horticultural Therapy with Veterans for Post-Traumatic Growth. Routledge.


Id love to see your comments or reflections on what types of scarification (physical, thermal, chemical or biological) you have been through to break through your seed coat and allowed your post traumatic growth.


Farmer John

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