Fire, natural or of anthropologic origin, is a recurrent phenomenon in South African mesic grassland. The species composition of these grasslands is sensitive to fire, particularly fire frequency. However, the mechanisms involved in influencing species composition are not fully understood. Currently there is a general suggestion that plant-derived smoke and smoke-isolated biologically active butenolide compound provide an important germination cue for a range of Poaceae species. Studies also show that these smoke solutions play a role in vegetative growth of many plants. We examined if this fire-response syndrome is related to the effect of plant-derived smoke-water (1∶500 v/v) and smoke-derived butenolide compound (10−8 M) on seed germination and seedling growth of six major constituent species of the grassland. In addition, the interaction of the smoke solutions with temperature was examined by incubating seeds at a range of temperatures. Treating seeds with smoke-water and butenolide, the germination rate and final germination percentage were greater in three of the six species. Themeda triandra Forssk. and Tristachya leucothrix Trin. ex Nees showed the greatest response, with final germination increased from 43% to 67% and 35% to 63%, respectively. With increasing temperature (> 30°C), Aristida junciformis Trin. & Rupr., Hyparrhenia hirta (L.) Staph, and Panicum maximum Jacq. responded positively to the test solutions. In nearly all the species tested, smoke-water–treated seeds produced significantly longer shoots or roots. However, the degree of response varied from species to species and across different temperatures. Findings from this study suggest that plant-derived smoke and its interaction with temperature may significantly influence the germination and seedling growth of the South African mesic grassland species, which can further alter the grassland composition.
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Vol. 62 • No. 6