Smoke affects the germination of native grasses of New South Wales

Tamara R. Read, Sean M. Bellairs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The germination responses to plant-derived smoke of seeds of 20 native grass species from New South Wales, Australia, were tested under laboratory conditions. The species belonged to 14 genera including Bothriochloa, Chloris, Cymbopogon, Danthonia, Dichanthium, Digitaria, Eragrostis, Eriochloa, Microlaena, Panicum, Paspalidium, Poa, Stipa and Themeda. The interaction between smoke and husk-imposed dormancy was examined by removing the floral structures surrounding the seeds, when sufficient seeds were available. Smoke was shown to be an important environmental stimulus for breaking the dormancy of native grasses; however, the response differed considerably between different genera and between species of the same genus. For almost half of the species, smoke significantly increased the germination percentage. Panicum decompositum showed the greatest response, with germination increasing from 7.7 to 63.1% when smoke was applied. Panicum effusum had no germination in the absence of smoke, but 16.7% germination when smoke was applied. Stipa scabra subsp, scabra had germination significantly reduced by smoke from 30.2 to 19.9%. Five species had their germination rate, but not the final germination percentage, affected by smoke, and a third of the species were unaffected by smoke. For five of the species, Chloris ventricosa, Dichanthium sericeum, Panicum decompositum, Poa labillardieri and Stipa scabra subsp. falcata, this is the first report of a smoke-stimulated germination response. For those species with germination promoted by smoke, retention of the covering structures did not prevent smoke stimulation of germination. Sowing smoke-treated husked seeds is likely to be preferable as it would still promote greater germination, whereas dehusking seeds can result in the seeds being more susceptible to desiccation and fungal attack in the field. It is suggested that other grassland communities that respond to pyric conditions may also contain species that respond to smoke.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-576
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


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