The tropical forest pioneer trees Cecropia obtusifolia and Piper auritum germinate and become established in large light gaps of the forest canopy in the rain forest of south-eastern Mexico. Germination of the seeds of both species is under photocontrol and is triggered when the red: far-red ratio (R: FR) of the incident light increases due to a reduction of the green canopy density. Exposure to simulated light canopies retarded and reduced germination. The light environment inside the forest inhibits germination totally. Experiments with alternate R and FR light treatments indicate the need for long periods of exposure to R light for germination, and demonstrate a strong reversibility of the R light stimulation by FR light in both species. This property of the seeds may be related to the detection of light gap size and its differentiation from the normal sunflecks of the forest.