Heterogeneous ice nuclei are necessary, and the common epiphytic ice nucleation active (INA) bacteria Pseudomonas syringae van Hall and Erwinia herbicola (Löhnis) Dye are sufficient to incite frost injury to sensitive plants at -5 degrees C. The ice nucleation activity of the bacteria occurs at the same temperatures at which frost injury to sensitive plants occurs in nature. Bacterial ice nucleation on leaves can be detected at about -2 degrees C, whereas the leaves themselves, i.e. without INA bacteria, contain nuclei active only at much lower temperatures. The temperature at which injury to plants occurs is predictable on the basis of the ice nucleation activity of leaf discs, which in turn depends on the number and ice nucleation activity of their resident bacteria. Bacterial isolates which are able to incite injury to corn at -5 degrees C are always active as ice nuclei at -5 degrees C. INA bacteria incited frost injury to all of the species of sensitive plants tested.