Temperature variation during seed set is an important modulator of seed dormancy and impacts the performance of crop seeds through effects on establishment rate. It remains unclear how changing temperature during maturation leads to dormancy and growth vigour differences in nondormant seedlings. Here we take advantage of the large seed size in Brassica oleracea to analyse effects of temperature on individual seed tissues. We show that warm temperature during seed maturation promotes seed germination, while removal of the endosperm from imbibed seeds abolishes temperature-driven effects on germination. We demonstrate that cool temperatures during early seed maturation lead to abscisic acid (ABA) retention specifically in the endosperm at desiccation. During this time temperature affects ABA dynamics in individual seed tissues and regulates ABA catabolism. We also show that warm-matured seeds preinduce a subset of germination-related programmes in the endosperm, whereas cold-matured seeds continue to store maturation-associated transcripts including DOG1 because of effects on mRNA degradation before quiescence, rather than because of the effect of temperature on transcription. We propose that effects of temperature on seed vigour are explained by endospermic ABA breakdown and the divergent relationships between temperature and mRNA breakdown and between temperature, seed moisture and the glass transition.