Dahlia coccinea grows on fire-prone xerophilous shrubland, on a lava field located in Mexico City. Two kinds of experiments were performed to test the role of fire and environmental heterogeneity on germination. The first experiment tested the effect of environmental conditions (constant and alternating temperatures, cold stratification and light). The second one tested the effects of fire and high temperatures (dry and moist heat) on germination. Seeds of Dahlia were indifferent to light. The seeds showed physiological dormancy which was lost by after-ripening or by gibberellins. During simulated fires, dry seeds tolerated high temperatures of short duration and also withstood prolonged exposure to 60ºC. Dry heat treatment reduced the mechanical restriction for embryo growth in dormant seeds. Ash and prolonged exposure to moist heat inhibited germination. Exogenous gibberellins reversed the deleterious effects of prolonged exposure to moist heat. The effect of cold stratification was related to the seeds' physiological stage and to light conditions; stratification in the dark reduced germination. Seeds of D. coccinea could tolerate, evade, or be slightly favored by the effects of low intensity fires occurring in their habitat. Seed responses to treatments suggest that the spatially heterogeneous lava field could provide a wide variety of micro-sites where physiological dormancy could be broken and during fires seeds could maintain their viability and subsequently germinate and/or develop a seed bank. © 2006 Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.