UV-B absorbance and UV-B absorbing compounds (UACs) of the pollen of Vicia faba, Betula pendula, Helleborus foetidus and Pinus sylvestris were studied. Sequential extraction demonstrated considerable UV-B absorbance both in the soluble (acid methanol) and insoluble sporopollenin (acetolysis resistant residue) fractions of UACs, while the wall-bound fraction of UACs was small. The UV-B absorbance of the soluble and sporopollenin fraction of pollen of Vicia faba plants exposed to enhanced UV-B (10 kJ m(-2) day(-1) UV-B(BE)) was higher than that of plants that received 0 kJ m(-2) day(-1) UV-B(BB). Pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (py-GC-MS) analysis of pollen demonstrated that p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid formed part of the sporopollenin fraction of the pollen. The amount of these aromatic monomers in the sporopollenin of Vicia faba appeared to increase in response to enhanced UV-B (10 kJ m(-2) day(-1) UV-B(BE)). The detection limit of pyGC-MS was sufficiently low to quantify these phenolic acids in ten pollen grains of Betula and Pinus. The experimental data presented provide evidence for the possibility that polyphenolic compounds in pollen of plants are indicators of solar UV-B and may be applied as a new proxy for the reconstruction of historic variation in solar UV-B levels.