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Ethylene is a plant hormone that differs from other plant hormones in being a gas.

As they approach maturity, many fruits (ex. oranges, bananas, kiwis, apples, avocados) release ethylene.

Ethylene then promotes the ripening and senescence of the fruit.

Ethylene also affects many other plant functions such as:

          • abscission of leaves, fruits, and flower petals;

          • drooping of leaves;
          • sprouting of potato buds;
          • seed germination;
          • flower formation in some species.

When plants ripen in their natural environment, the ethylene is released into the surrounding air and naturally dissipates. However, when fresh produce is placed in a cool room, the ethylene gets trapped and builds up, which accelerates the ripening process. This accelerated ripening can cause produce to spoil rapidly.

Small amounts of ethylene gas during shipping and storage causes most fresh produce to deteriorate faster. Automotive emissions, plastics, smoke and fluorescent lights all increase ethylene gas levels. A single propane-powered forklift can cause serious damage in highly ethylene gas-sensitive commodities.

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