Nerve impulse entrainment and other excitation and passive phenomena are analyzed for a morphologically diverse and exhaustive data set (n = 57) of realistic (3-dimensional computer traced) soma-dendritic tree structures of ganglion cells in the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) retina. The neurons, including axon and an anatomically specialized thin axonal segment that is observed in every ganglion cell, were supplied with five voltage- or ligand-gated ion channels (plus leakage), which were distributed in accordance with those found in a recent study that employed an equivalent dendritic cylinder. A wide variety of impulse-entrainment responses was observed, including regular low-frequency firing, impulse doublets, and more complex patterns involving impulse propagation failures (or aborted spikes) within the encoder region, all of which have been observed experimentally. The impulse-frequency response curves of the cells fell into three groups called FAST, MEDIUM, and SLOW in approximate proportion as seen experimentally. In addition to these, a new group was found among the traced cells that exhibited an impulse-frequency response twice that of the FAST category. The total amount of soma-dendritic surface area exhibited by a given cell is decisive in determining its electrophysiological classification. On the other hand, we found only a weak correlation between the electrophysiological group and the morphological classification of a given cell, which is based on the complexity of dendritic branching and the physical reach or "receptive field" area of the cell. Dendritic morphology determines discharge patterns to dendritic (synaptic) stimulation. Orthodromic impulses can be initiated on the axon hillock, the thin axonal segment, the soma, or even the proximal axon beyond the thin segment, depending on stimulus magnitude, soma-dendritic membrane area, channel distribution, and state within the repetitive impulse cycle. Although a sufficiently high dendritic Na-channel density can lead to dendritic impulse initiation, this does not occur with our "standard" channel densities and is not seen experimentally. Even so, impulses initiated elsewhere do invade all except very thin dendritic processes. Impulse-encoding irregularities increase when channel conductances are reduced in the encoder region, and the F/I properties of the cells are a strong function of the calcium- and Ca-activated K-channel densities. Use of equivalent dendritic cylinders requires more soma-dendritic surface area than real dendritic trees, and the source of the discrepancy is discussed.