Allelopathy has been increasingly invoked as a mechanism facilitating exotic plant invasions. However, studies even on the same target species often yield varying results concerning the strength and importance of allelopathic inhibition, suggesting that the process may depend on the specific environmental context. Here I studied how the allelopathic inhibition of sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) seedlings by garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) depended on the presence of a soil microbial community. Using three analytical approaches to quantifying allelopathy, I consistently found allelopathic inhibition only in sterilized soils, suggesting that certain microbial taxa inhibit the process, possibly by degrading the allelochemicals. Determining the environmental contexts that reduce or eliminate allelopathic inhibition could lead to a greater understanding of the spatial variation in invasion success and potentially lead to new avenues for management. (c) 2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.