The hemicellulosic polysaccharide xyloglucan binds with a strong affinity to cellulosic cell wall microfibrils, the resulting heterogeneous network constituting up to 50% of the dry weight of the cell wall in dicotyledonous plants. To elucidate the molecular details of this interaction, we have performed theoretical potential energy calculations of the static and dynamic equilibrium conformations of xyloglucan using the GEGOP software. In particular, we have evaluated the preferred sidechain conformations of hexa-, octa-, deca- and heptadecasaccharide model fragments of xyloglucan for molecules with a cellulose-like, flat, glucan backbone, and a cellobiose-like, twisted, glucan backbone conformation. For the flat backbone conformation the determination of static equilibrium molecular conformations revealed a tendency for sidechains to fold onto one surface of the backbone, defined here as the H1S face, in the fucosylated region of the polymer. This folding produces a molecule that is sterically accessible on the opposite face of the backbone, the H4S face. Typically, this folding onto the H1S surface is significantly stabilized by favorable interactions between the fucosylated, trisaccharide sidechain and the backbone, with some stabilization from adjacent terminal xylosyl sidechains. In contrast, the trisaccharide sidechain folds onto the H4S face of xyloglucan fragments with a twisted backbone conformation. Preliminary NMR data on nonasaccharide fragments isolated from sycamore suspension-cultured cell walls are consistent with the hypothesis that the twisted conformation of xyloglucan represents the solution form of this molecule. Metropolis Monte Carlo (MMC) simulations were employed to assess sidechain flexibility of the heptadecasaccharide fragments. Simulations performed on the flat, rigid, backbone xyloglucan indicate that the trisaccharide sidechain is less mobile than the terminal xylosyl sidechains. MMC calculations on a fully relaxed molecule revealed a positive correlation between a specific trisaccharide sidechain orientation and the 'flatness' of the backbone glucosyl residues adjacent to this sidechain. These results suggest that the trisaccharide sidechain may play a role in the formation of nucleation sites that initiate the binding of these regions to cellulose. Based on these conformational preferences we suggest the following model for the binding of xyloglucan to cellulose. Nucleation of a binding site is initiated by the fucosylated, trisaccharide sidechain that flattens out an adjacent region of the xyloglucan backbone. Upon contacting a cellulose microfibril this region spreads by step-wise flattening of successive segments of the backbone. Self-association of xyloglucan molecules in solution may be prevented by the low frequency of formation of these nucleation sites and the geometry of the molecules in solution.