Multicellular eukaryotes contain a diversity of cell types, presumably differing from one another in the suite of genes expressed during development. At present, little is known about the proportion of the genome transcribed in most cell types, nor the degree to which global patterns of expression change during cellular differentiation. To address these questions in a model plant system, we studied the unique and highly exaggerated single-celled, epidermal seed trichomes ("cotton") of cultivated cotton (Gossypium hirsutum). By taking advantage of advances in expression profiling and microarray technology, we evaluated the transcriptome of cotton fibers across a developmental time-course, from a few days post-anthesis through primary and secondary wall synthesis stages. Comparisons of gene expression in populations of developing cotton fiber cells to genetically complex reference samples derived from 6 different cotton organs demonstrated that a remarkably high proportion of the cotton genome is transcribed, with 75-94% of the total genome transcribed at each stage. Compared to the reference samples, more than half of all genes were up-regulated during at least one stage of fiber development. These genes were clustered into seven groups of expression profiles that provided new insight into biological processes governing fiber development. Genes implicated in vesicle coating and trafficking were found to be overexpressed throughout all stages of fiber development studied, indicating their important role in maintaining rapid growth of this unique plant cell.