Smoke Primer in Protea Seed Germination

Smoke Seed Primer is ideal for treating seeds of Proteas, Leucospermums (pincushions), Leucadendrons, Ericas, Strelitzias, Helichrysums (everlastings), restios (Cape grasses), Lobelias, grasses, sedges, mesembs (vygies), Geleznowia, Hibbertia, Stirlingia, Verticordia, Actinostrobus, Pimelea, Lechenaultia Anigozanthus and many other species.

Many wildflower seeds are dormant and need very specific conditions for germination. The smoke seed primer solution contains a combination of natural substances that overcome dormancy and stimulate seed germination. The degree of germination success varies with the species, but on average, treated seeds give at least twice the number of seedlings that untreated seeds do.

For the average fynbos or protea seed that finds itself in the soil after a flowering season, it would be very difficult to grow successfully with dense fynbos shrubs around it. The fynbos would deprive it of the sun and the nutrients it needs to thrive.

However, after a fire there is no shade and the soil is rich in nutrients - ideal conditions for a seedling. How would a seed know when it is safe to germinate because there has been a fire and and the rainy season is about to start? One cue would be getting soaked in smoky water as the first rains disolve the ash on the soil. In 1990 researchers realised that the chemicals in smoke from fynbos fires (and not just the heat of the fire) was responsible for breaking seed dormancy and stimulating germination.

To smoke seeds yourself you would need to burn fynbos plant material in a polythene tent. You would hang the seeds you want to germinate over the fire to smoke them. However, not every botanist, horticulturist or home gardener has a smoke tent or access to the right plant material to burn, nor is it always possible or desirable to light an open fire to get smoke.

Smoke Primer Disks

Dr. Neville Brown has now developed "instant smoke" for growers who want to germinate the dormant seeds of wildflowers. In this invention absorbent paper is impregnated with fynbos-smoke-saturated water. The paper is dried and sealed in a polythene packet. When dormant seeds need "smoking", you add some water to the paper in a suitable container and soak the seeds you want "smoke-primed" in the smoke-water solution for 24 hours. In order to have the maximum effect in breaking seed dormancy, a range of natural germination stimulators has been added to the smoke solution to overcome other forms of seed dormancy found in many species such as the Strelitzia.

This picture shows the results of an experiment in germinating restio seeds using

  1. Smoke Seed Primer in the leftmost tray,
  2. a smoke tent and a real fire in the centre tray, and
  3. no treatment at all.

You can now buy these dehydrated germination stimulators as paper disks. They are known as "SMOKE SEED PRIMER" disks. 50ml water should be added to each paper disk. Each disk is thus enough to make up to 50ml of solution and thus treat about 100 large seeds. We include a disk of Smoke Seed Primer with our Seed Starter Packs and our other protea and Strelitzia seed selections.

You can order smoke primer here.