Research highlight

Plants rising from the ashes

Nature Communications

June 22, 2011

A compound produced in wildfire smoke that releases cyanide — which stimulates seed germination in fire-responsive plant species — has been identified by a study in Nature Communications this week. This finding suggests a new ecological role for cyanide in post-fire plant regeneration.

Several species of plants regenerate after wildfires by responding to compounds in the smoke produced from burning plant matter that stimulate seed germination. Identifying the growth-stimulating compound out of the thousands present in smoke is, however, a challenge. Gavin Flematti and colleagues show that glyceronitrile, which can subsequently release cyanide, is produced in wildfire smoke. They propose that glyceronitrile serves as an ecological store for cyanide and is an important cue for stimulating seed germination and landscape regeneration after fires.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1356

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