chapter  20
24 Pages

Germination Stimulant in Smoke: Isolation and Identifi cation

WithGavin R. Flematti, Emilio L. Ghisalberti, Kingsley W. Dixon, Robert D. Trengove

Toward the end of the 1980s, Hannes de Lange, a graduate student then at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, carried out a most unusual experiment on the plant that he had chosen to study for his dissertation. The plant, false heath (Audouinia capitata, Bruniaceae), grows in the fynbos, the magnificent botanical region in the south and southwest Cape of Africa. However, he faced a major problem. The seeds of false heath do not sprout under normal greenhouse conditions and the only references to seedlings of the plant came after a wildfire in the fynbos. In what appears to be a “suspension of logic”, he devised an experiment in which he fumigated selected soil sites with plant-derived smoke. On revisiting the site some 7 months later, he found a considerable number of false heath seedlings growing on the smoke-treated plots, but not on the control sites. This finding sparked a great deal of interest and several groups from North America, South Africa, Europe, and Western Australia began the search for the germination stimulant(s) in plant-derived smoke.