Previous reports indicate that heterophyllous aquatic plants can be induced to form aerial-type leaves on submerged shoots when they are grown in exogenous abscisic acid (ABA). This study reports on the relationship between osmotic stress (e.g. the situation encountered by a shoot tip when it grows above the water surface), endogenous ABA (as measured by gas chromatography-electron capture detector) and leaf morphology in the heterophyllous aquatic plant, Hippuris vulgaris. Free ABA could not be detected in submerged shoots of H. vulgaris but in aerial shoots ABA occurred at ca. 40 ng (g fr wt)-1. When submerged shoots were osmotically stressed ABA appeared at levels of 26 to 40 ng (g fr wt)-1. These and other data support two main conclusions: (1) Osmotically stressing a submerged shoot causes the appearance of detectable levels of ABA. (2) The rise of ABA in osmotically stressed submerged shoots in turn induces a change in leaf morphology from the submerged to the aerial form. This corroborates the hypothesis that, in the natural environment, ABA levels rise in response to the osmotic stress encountered when a submerged shoot grows up through the water/air interface and that the increased ABA leads to the production of aerial-type leaves.