Regulated secretory vesicle delivery, vesicle fusion and rapid membrane recycling are all contentious issues with respect to tip growth in plant, fungal and animal cells. To examine the organisation and dynamics of membrane movements at the growing pollen tube apex and address the question of their relationship to growth, we have used the membrane stain FM4-64 both as a structural marker and as a quantitative assay. Labelling of living Lilium Longiflorum pollen tubes by FM4-64 resulted in a distinct staining pattern in the tube apex, which corresponds spatially to the previously identified cone-shaped 'apical clear zone' containing secretory vesicles. Dye uptake could be inhibited by sodium azide and followed a strict temporal sequence from the plasma membrane to a population of small (1-2 microm diameter) discrete internal structures, with subsequent appearance of dye in the apical region and ultimately in vacuolar membranes. Washout of the dye rapidly removed the plasma membrane staining, which was followed by a gradual decline in the apical fluorescence over more than an hour. Injected aqueous FM4-64 solution showed a relatively even distribution within the pollen tube. Association of FM4-64 with apical secretory vesicles was supported by the effects of the inhibitors Brefeldin-A and Cytochalasin-D, which are known to affect the localisation and number of such vesicles, on the FM4-64 staining pattern. Examination of the dynamics of FM4-64 labelling in the pollen tube tip by time-lapse observation, supported by fluorescence-recovery-after-photobleaching (FRAP) analysis, suggested the possibility of distinct pathways of bulk membrane movement both towards and, significantly, away from the apex. Quantitative analysis of FM4-64 distribution in the apex revealed that fluctuations in fluorescence 5 to 10 microm subapically, and to a lesser extent the apical 3 microm, could be related to the periodic oscillation in pollen tube growth rate. This data reveals a quantitative relationship between FM4-64 staining and growth rate within an individual tube.