The role of microtubules in tracheary element formation in cultured stem segments ofColeus has been investigated through the use of the antimicrotubule drug, colchicine. Colchicine treatment of the cultured stem segments produced a dual effect on xylem differentiation. If applied at the time of stem segment isolation or shortly thereafter, wound vessel member formation is almost completely blocked. However, if colchicine is applied after the third day of culture, it does not inhibit differentiation, but instead large numbers of xylem elements are formed which have highly deformed secondary walls. Both effects are related to colchicine's specific affinity for microtubules. In the first case it is shown that colchicine blocks mitosis, presumably by destroying the spindle apparatus, and thus inhibits divisions which are prerequisite for the initiation of xylem differentiation. While, if colchicine is applied after the necessary preparative divisions have taken place, it destroys specifically the cortical microtubules associated with the developing bands of secondary wall, thus causing aberrant wall deposition. Light and electron microscopic analysis of drug-treated cells reveals that the secondary wall becomes smeared over the surface of the primary wall and does not retain the discrete banded pattern characteristic of secondary thickenings in untreated cells. Examination of colchicine-treated secondary walls in KMnO4 fixed material shows that in the absence of microtubules the cellulose microfibrils lose their normal parallel orientation and are deposited in swirls and curved configurations, and often lie at sharp angles to the axis of the secondary wall band. Microtubules, thus, appear to play a major role in defining the pattern of secondary wall deposition and in directing the orientation of the cellulose microfibrils of the wall. Factors in addition to microtubules also act in controlling the secondary wall pattern, since we observe that even in the absence of microtubules secondary thickenings of two adjacent xylem elements are deposited directly opposite one another across the common primary wall.