The effects of water deficits on plant morphology and biochemistry were analyzed in two photoperiodic strains of field-grown cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.). Plants grown under dryland conditions exhibited a 40 to 85% decrease in leaf number, leaf area index, leaf size, plant height, and total weight per plant. Gross photosynthesis decreased from 0.81 to 0.47 milligram CO(2) fixed per meter per second and the average midday water, osmotic, and turgor potentials decreased to -2.1, -2.4, and 0.3 megapascals, respectively.There was a progressive increase in glutathione reductase activity and in the cellular antioxidant system in the leaves of stressed plants compared to the irrigated controls. The stress-induced increases in enzyme activity occurred at all canopy positions analyzed.Irrigation of the dryland plots following severe water stress resulted in a 50% increase in leaf area per gram fresh weight in newly expanded leaves of both strains over the leaves which had expanded under the dryland conditions. Paraquat resistance (a relative measure of the cellular antioxidant system) decreased in the strain T25 following irrigation. Glutathione reductase activities remained elevated in the T25 and T185 leaves which were expanded fully prior to irrigation and in the leaves which expanded following the irrigation treatment.