The physiological characteristics of seed dormancy in Nicotiana plumbaginifolia Viv. are described. The level of seed dormancy is defined by the delay in seed germination (i.e the time required prior to germination) under favourable environmental conditions. A wild-type line shows a clear primary dormancy, which is suppressed by afterripening, whereas an abscisic acid (ABA)-deficient mutant shows a non-dormant phenotype. We have investigated the role of ABA and gibberellic acid (GA(3)) in the control of dormancy maintenance or breakage during imbibition in suitable conditions. It was found that fluridone, a carotenoid biosynthesis inhibitor, is almost as efficient as GA(3) in breaking dormancy. Dry dormant seeds contained more ABA than dry afterripened seeds and, during early imbibition, there was an accumulation of ABA in dormant seeds, but not in afterripened seeds. In addition, fluridone and exogenous GA(3) inhibited the accumulation of ABA in imbibed dormant seeds. This reveals an important role for ABA synthesis in dormancy maintenance in imbibed seeds.