Failure of natural regeneration of conifers, such as subalpine spruce (Picea abies) and black spruce (Picea mariana), has been reported in the presence of dominant ericaceous understory plants of boreal forests of North America, Fino-Scandinavia, and northern Europe. Among other factors such as competition for light and nutrients, conifer regeneration failure has been attributed to allelopathic effects of the understory ericaceous plants. Rabotnov theorized that (the manifestation of) allelopathy is a result of long-term coevolution within established plant communities and that it may have maximum inhibitory effects on introduced species. Our objectives were to determine what components of the understory ericaceous plant, Vaccinium myrtillus, affect spruce regeneration and to test Rabotnov's hypothesis. Field experiments were complemented with laboratory studies in which seed germination and primary growth of the two spruces were used as response variables. We found that P. mariana was generally more affected than P. abies by V. myrtillus allelochemicals, both in field and in vitro experiments. Field germination of P. abies was only 2% and 3% in the undisturbed sowed plots and in Vaccinium-removed sowed plots, respectively, but P. marana did not germinate at all in these treatments. In humus-removed sowed plots, P. abies had 27% germination, while P. marian had only 15%. In a controlled experiment, P. mariana had the highest decrease in dry weight of primary root in the fresh leaf treatment of V. myrtillus (77%), followed by its leaf leachate (71%), humus (29%), and humus leachate (13%). The decreases in root dry weights of P. abies due to these treatments were 67, 47, 30, and 10%, respectively. Our results provide support for Rabotnov's hypothesis. It is possible that both V. myrtillus and Kalmia angustifolia, involved in the growth inhibition process of P. abies and P. mariana, respectively adopted similar "strategies" of allelopathic inhibition of conifers, by allocating a large part of their carbon pool to the production of secondary metabolites.