The nature and specificity of the Wiesner test (phloroglucinol-HCl reagent) for the aromatic aldehyde fraction contained in lignins is studied. Phloroglucinol reacted in ethanol-hydrochloric acid with coniferyl aldehyde, sinapyl aldehyde, vanillin, and syringaldehyde to yield either pink pigments (in the case of hydroxycinnamyl aldehydes) or red-brown pigments (in the case of hydroxybenzaldehydes). However, coniferyl alcohol, sinapyl alcohol, and highly condensed dehydrogenation polymers derived from these cinnamyl alcohols and aldehydes did not react with phloroglucinol in ethanol-hydrochloric acid. The differences in the reactivity of phloroglucinol with hydroxycinnamyl aldehydes and their dehydrogenation polymers may be explained by the fact that, in the latter, the unsubstituted (alpha,beta-unsaturated) cinnamaldehyde functional group, which is responsible for the dye reaction, is lost due to lateral chain cross-linking reactions involving the beta carbon. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and thioacidolysis analyses of phloroglucinol-positive lignifying plant cell walls belonging to the plant species Zinnia elegans L., Capsicum annuumvar. annuum, Populus albaL., and Pinus halepensisL. demonstrated the presence of 4- O-linked hydroxycinnamyl aldehyde end groups and 4- O-linked 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-benzaldehyde (vanillin) end groups in lignins. However, given the relatively low abundance of 4- O-linked vanillin in lignifying cell walls and the low extinction coefficient of its red-brown phloroglucinol adduct, it is unlikely that vanillin contributes to a great extent to the phloroglucinol-positive stain reaction. These results suggest that the phloroglucinol-HCl pink stain of lignifying xylem cell walls actually reveals the 4- O-linked hydroxycinnamyl aldehyde structures contained in lignins. Histochemical studies showed that these aldehyde structures are assembled, as in the case of coniferyl aldehyde, during the early stages of xylem cell wall lignification.