Growing root hairs of cress (Lepidium sativum L.) were investigated using freeze-fracture and electron-microscopic techniques. Three zones of differentiation could be detected: the tip zone, the zone of vacuolation and the foot zone. Corresponding to these zones, the plasmatic fracture face of the plasma membrane showed areas of pronounced differentiation with respect to the distribution and frequency of intramembranous particles (IMPs). The tip zone was characterized by an irregular fracture plane caused by a large number of blisters which were more or less free of IMPs. These blisters coincided in size and shape with Golgi vesicles accumulated in the ground cytoplasm near the very tip. Outside these blisters, IMPs were randomly distributed. The surrounding cell wall was very thin and mainly composed of amorphous material. The plasma membrane of the vacuolation zone often revealed areas of hexagonally ordered particles (HOPS). Such patterns of particles were observed in chemically fixed and unfixed root hairs with a maximum surface density of 1200 HOPS per area. Mostly, however, 15-50 HOPS per area were found. The number of such areas increased with increasing distance from the tip up to five areas per μm(2). Additionally, imprints of large cellulose microfibrils could be detected in unfixed material; they were mainly parallel to the root-hair axis and sometimes ended in areas of HOPS. However, HOPS were observed only in approximately 60% of the root hairs. Otherwise, large areas free of IMPs were interspersed between areas of randomly distributed IMPs. The particle frequency was relatively low and varied greatly in the tip as well as in the vacuolation zone, that is, from 1200 to 2000 IMPs μm(-2). Finally, the plasma membrane of the foot zone showed a very constant number of approx. 2000 IMPs μm(-2). These particles were mainly distinct and randomly distributed. In this zone, HOPS were never observed in spite of the fact that the cell wall was composed of numerous parallel-running cellulose microfibrils. Since membrane material is mainly incorporated in the tip zone where IMPs are statistically distributed, the results indicate that the plasma membrane of the outgrowing part of the root-hair cells is characterized by a high lateral mobility of its components. Furthermore, they indicate that specifically arranged particles are involved in the synthesis of cellulose microfibrils. These areas of HOPS seem to be locally restricted and - or limited with respect to their lifetime.