Herbivore-induced volatile organic compounds prime non-attacked plant tissues to respond more strongly to subsequent attacks. However, the key volatiles that trigger this primed state remain largely unidentified. In maize, the release of the aromatic compound indole is herbivore-specific and occurs earlier than other induced responses. We therefore hypothesized that indole may be involved in airborne priming. Using indole-deficient mutants and synthetic indole dispensers, we show that herbivore-induced indole enhances the induction of defensive volatiles in neighbouring maize plants in a species-specific manner. Furthermore, the release of indole is essential for priming of mono- and homoterpenes in systemic leaves of attacked plants. Indole exposure markedly increases the herbivore-induced production of the stress hormones jasmonate-isoleucine conjugate and abscisic acid, which represents a likely mechanism for indole-dependent priming. These results demonstrate that indole functions as a rapid and potent aerial priming agent that prepares systemic tissues and neighbouring plants for incoming attacks.