Stipa capillata (Poaceae) seeds were harvested from a control area (displaying a gamma dose rate of 0.23 micro Sv h(-1)) (C plants) and from two contaminated areas (5.4 and 25 micro Sv h(-1)) on the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site (SNTS) in Kazakhstan. The plants were grown for 124 d in a greenhouse under controlled conditions and exposed to three different treatments: (0) control; (E) external gamma irradiation delivered by a sealed 137Cs source with a dose rate of 66 micro Sv h(-1); (E+I) E treatment combined with internal beta irradiation due to contamination by 134Cs and 85Sr via root uptake from the soil. The root uptake led to a contamination of 100 Bq g(-1) for 85Sr and 5 Bq g(-1) for 134Cs (of plant dry weight) as measured at harvest. The activity of SOD, APX, GR, POD, CAT, G6PDH, and MDHAR enzymes was measured in leaves. Under (0) treatment, all enzymes showed similar activities, except POD, which had higher activity in plants originating from contaminated areas. Treatment (E) induced an enhancement of POD, CAT, GR, SOD, and G6PDH activities in plants originating from contaminated areas. Only control plants showed any stimulation of APX activity. Treatment (E+I) had no significant effect on APX, GR, CAT, and POD activities, but MDHAR activity was significantly reduced while SOD and G6PDH activities were significantly increased. The increase occurred in plants from all origins for SOD, with a greater magnitude as a function of their origin, and it occurred only in plants from the more contaminated populations for G6PDH. This suggests that exposure to a low dose rate of ionizing radiation for almost a half century in the original environment of Stipa has led to natural selection of the most adapted genotypes characterized by an efficient induction of anti-oxidant enzyme activities, especially SOD and G6PDH, involved in plant protection against reactive oxygen species.