Life On The Job

Famous or Historic People

Professor Kingsley Dixon, Botanist (contributed in part by Anabel Mifsud, ACU Education student)


Kingsley Dixon is a biologist and Professor at Curtin University, Associate of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a Visiting Professor at Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

He specialises in the conservation and restoration sciences with research programs involving community, industry and government through targeted research in seed science, landscape functional analysis, ex situ conservation and plant ecology.

He was instrumental in discovering smoke for germination of Australian species and worked on the discovery of the chemicals in smoke responsible for promoting post-fire germination. He holds positions in national and international conservation and professional organisations and is the 2016 Scientist of the Year for Western Australia. (Source: NASSTEC)

Professor Dixon is best known for his discovery of the chemical in smoke that germinates Australian plants, and promoting Western Australian plants in David Attenborough’s 2001 BBC series, The Private Life of Plants.  (Source: Mandurah Mail)

Life on Plants

He was the founding science director at Kings Park and Botanic Gardens for 32 years, and has been Curtin Professor there since 2015. (Source: Mandurah Mail)

Introduction & Education:

Kingsley went to high school in Ashfield, Perth WA. He went onto the University of Western Australia to study botany and gained a Bachelor of Science. Then he completed a PhD from University of Western Australia. His PhD was on the biology and ecology of a group of native plants with underground bulbs and tubers. (Source: Personal communication)


Professor Dixon was the Director of Science at Kings Park for 32 years, where he lead its research and building teams of more than 50 scientists and research students.
Professor Dixon's work in conservation science, restoration ecology, and plant science have been fundamental to conserving threatened species and transforming ecological restoration practice in Australia.

In 1992, Professor Dixon discovered smoke as the component in bushfires that triggers the germination of Australian plants. This discovery was game-changing, and transformed many aspects of restoration and conservation practices in Australia- from how we conserve rare species, to mine site restoration.
"Few other single ecological findings have had such a profound impact across so many aspects of Australian ecology."
(Source: Curtin University)

Following the discovery of smoke as a component of plant germination, he undertook an 11-year study to identify the specific chemical in smoke that is responsible for germination. he, along with a team of colleagues from the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University analyzed over 4 000 chemicals present in smoke, where they discovered a new molecule which they named karrikinolide. In 2004, karrikinolides were recognized and studied as the first new class of plant growth regulation hormones in almost 30 years.

Karrikinolides are molecules that prompt seeds to break dormancy and germinate. The seed honors the local Noongar language, with its name derived from the word “karrik” meaning “smoke”.


"This discovery has lead to new horticultural products, and the improved restoration and conservation of many rare and threatened Australian plants that are unable to be conserved or propagated by other means." Colin Barnett, Western Australia Premier and Minister for Science. (Source: Science meets Business)

Currently, Professor Dixon teaches university courses [at Curtin University, Perth] in ecological restoration, plant evolution and ecology, mycology (the study of fungi), seed biology, and orchid biology.

He provides field experiences and engaging, though-provoking lectures to encourage his undergraduate students to consider a career in research.


Did You Know?


International Network for Seed-Based Restoration

Kingsley Dixon

"I am a restoration ecologist and conservation biologist, Professor and Director of a major newly funded Centre for Mining Restoration with 30 years experience in restoration focused on minesite and urban interface restoration and conservation practice.

I am the Chair of SER’s Australasian chapter and a passionate believer in the social, economic and environmental values of restoration particularly in a world facing the need for carbon drawdown when restoration will become a major focus for all nations.

My interests in native seed span the same time period and I have published over 70 papers on the subject. I see native seed use and methods to improve functionality and efficiency as key to delivering cost effective, landscape-scale restoration on a planetary scale. I look forward to taking the INSR to a truly connected global network."

(Source: INSR)

The Team

Listening to the voice of indigenous people in mining - CMSR workshop 2019

Experiences & Opportunities:

1.       What put you on the path as a Botanist?

"Being raised as a young child in the bush meant I was immersed in Australian wildflowers where I developed a deep appreciation of the wonders of plants and how in their struggle to survive they develop the most amazing strategies – from eating insects in sundews to combat ‘plant malnutrition’ to how orchids are pollinated by amazing insects that are tricked into pollinating the orchid"

2.       Have you had any Opportunities?

"The best opportunity I had (and every child in Australia has) is being raised in this most amazing of continents with the most extraordinary plants, animals and landscapes.  We are blessed with such wonderful natural gifts that mean everywhere we turn there is another story to be told."  (Source: Personal communication)

Awards and Achievements

Professor Dixon is recognized internationally for his work in establishing the research laboratories in Kings Park and Botanic Garden as world-recognized research facilities. The work he has done at Kings Park not only benefits the science and conservation communities, but it also directly benefits Australian school students- with 10 000 children accessing its leading school programs on Australian plants, animals, and ecosystems.

  • In 2001, Professor Dixon featured in David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants series.
  • In 1997, 2000, and again in 2008, Professor Dixon was the co-recipient of three Golden Gecko Awards for Environmental Excellence.
  • In 1992 and 1996, he was awarded the Australian Minerals Energy Environment Foundations Awards of Environmental Excellence.
  • In 2010 he received the Chancellor's Medal of University of Western Australia.
  • In 2013, he received an Award of Honor from the Australian Orchid Foundation; and also received international recognition from the Linnean Society, through being awarded the Linnean Medal for Botany, and admittance as a Fellow of the Linnean Society.
  • In 2016, he was named Western Australia's Scientist of the Year in the Premiers Science Awards.  (Source: Science meets Business)

YouTube: SMOKE: a short story about an ancient phenomenon


YouTube: A day in the life of Kings Park - extended version (spoken by Prof. Dixon)




Curtin University - Staff Profile

Curtin Uni Staff Profile

International Network for Seed-based Restoration

ABC Kimberley 26 March 2015 [audio]

ABC Kimberley
Science meets Business 31 August 2016

Science meets Business
Australian Academy of Science: Just add water? Weird ways plants germinate

Western Australian Naturalists' Club - Serventy Memorial Lecture 2017 - Kingsley Dixon - Living in a Biodiversity Hotspot

31 May 2019 Gardening Australia - Buried Treasure
Video and transcript

Professor Kingsley Dixon works as part of a team at Curtin who do propagation of rare, threatened and endemic orchids for conservation works. Kingsley has developed a breakthrough in terrestrial orchid propagation, cutting growing time from years to months!

Gardening Australia
The Science Show 7 December 2019

the Science Show

The Conversation 11 May 2021

The Conversation
The Conversation 8 July 2020

The Conversation
The Conversation 6 September 2019

The Conversation

Books written by Kingsley Dixon:

Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia

Coastal Plants

Coastal Plants



Germination of Seeds and Smoke

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary
CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

Taken from: Gardening Australia [video included] Video

Gardening Australia


Before starting:
- Get students to research their plants and seeds.
- Remember to be mindful of weather conditions prior to smoking seeds, and check for any fire restrictions.

If you are unsure if any restrictions are in place, contact your local fire department (do not call 000- this number is for emergencies only. You can find the number of your local fire department on the internet or in a phone directory)
- Always have a responsible adult supervising. Ensure children cannot reach any hot surfaces.
- Extinguish all fires after you have finished seed smoking.

What you’ll need:

- BBQ kettle (with lid)
- Plastic container, such as a takeaway container (if the container begins to melt then the kettle is too hot!)
- Native plant seeds
- Straw (e.g. oat straw)
- Some dried leaves (avoid eucalypt leaves and myrtles)
- Matches

TIP: A mixture of leafy material and straw is required to create the correct quality of smoke for germination, not wood.

- Bellows (fire can be fanned manually)

1. Place a few handfuls of straw and dried leaves in the bottom of the barbeque kettle, to one side.
2. Use the matches to light the dried materials.
3. Using bellows or a manual fan, encourage the fire.
4. Sprinkle seeds into the plastic container
5. Place grill plates over the smoking leaves and straw. Place container filled with seeds on the opposite side of the smoking material.
6. Place the lid on the barbeque kettle.
7. Every few minutes open the lid to check the seeds and ensure that the leaf and straw material is still smoldering. If it is not smoldering, you will need to relight and then fan the fire.
8. Smoke for approximately 20 minutes. The seeds should have a light-brown coating on them. This coating contains the smoke chemical.
9. Once the seeds have dried off, they can be sown anytime over a 12 month period. Once planted, gently water to prevent washing away the smoke chemical from the seed surface.

- Contact your local wildflower society to source native seed suppliers, or visit the Australian Native Plants Society Region and Group Directory for more information!

Alternative: Use a fish smoker instead of the BBQ

Fish Smoker



Making smoke water using a bee smoker and seeing the germination difference [contributed by Raina Emerson, TAFE Teacher, Goulburn]

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability


1. Light a fire in a bee smoker using fuel such as sawdust, pine needles, leaf litter

2. Have a couple of jars of water handy. Get smoke into the water, either by pumping it in and shaking, repeating as required, or by pumping smoke onto a tissue and then putting the tissue into the water.

Bee smoker


1. Plant native flannel flower seeds (Actinotus) [or check with Greening Australia to see what seeds are suitable for your State/Territory] into two trays of seed-raising mix.

2. Treat one with smoke water and one with normal water.

3. Over the following week, examine and plot the germination rates of the two containers onto graph paper and see if there was any difference. Was the difference "significant"?



Focus question for the end of the activity –


“How could your knowledge about the smoke responsiveness of many native seeds be applied to land restoration?”


To listen to Professor Kingsley Dixon's knowledge about Bushfires go to the Science Show 7 December 2019

the Science Show


To investigate the work of a colleague of Prof. Kingsley Dixon's - Dr Adam Cross, click here

Adam Cross



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