Plant-derived smoke enhances germination of the invasive common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.).
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) has become an invasive weed in Central and Eastern Europe, where human-induced fires have also taken part in forming the landscape. There is growing evidence that plant-derived smoke enhances seed germination, especially for species from fire-prone ecosystems, via the mechanisms of dormancy-breaking, germination stimulation or both. Hence, we hypothesized that smoke promotes seed germination for common milkweed by either or both mechanisms. To test this, germination responses of A. syriaca to the application of aqueous smoke solution (smoke-water) were studied in laboratory. Seeds were either cold stratified (+7°C, 16 days) in tap water (TW), smoke-water (SW) or were not stratified at all, and then were germinated with SW or with TW (encompassing 5 treatments: 0-TW, 0-SW, TW-TW, TW-SW and SW-TW, where the first abbreviation indicates stratification, the second germination condition). In line with our hypothesis, the low (5%) germination of seeds was enhanced by cold stratification with SW at a greater extent (increasing to 52%) than by cold stratification with TW (25%), indicating that SW contributed to dormancy-breaking of seeds for A. syriaca. In contrast, SW did not stimulate germination when it was applied during the germination phase. To our best knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating smoke-enhanced germination for common milkweed, which mechanism may help this species to successfully colonize new habitats after fire. As fire frequency is expected to increase in Europe with recent climate change, these results might contribute to a more efficient control of A. syriaca in areas threatened by its invasion.