The tropical rain forest pioneer tree Heliocarpus donnell-smithii Rose establishes itself only in light gaps of the forest canopy. A series of experiments with fluctuating temperatures have shown that the germination is increased if the temperature rises above 31°C during a few hours each day. The laboratory experiments were complemented with determinations of the seed viability in the soil each month during one year, and with determinations of germination under the natural diurnal fluctuation of temperature in a forest gap. Germination increases under fluctuating temperatures, and the seeds can remain dormant when buried in the soil during several months. The diurnal heating of the soil of light gaps as contrasted with the almost constant temperature under undisturbed canopies may be a precise environmental indicator of appropriate conditions for germination and establishment of the pioneer heliophytes of the rain forest.