The tomato nuclear genome was determined to have a G + C content of 37% which is among the lowest reported for any plant species. Non-coding regions have a G + C content even lower (32% average) whereas coding regions are considerably richer in G + C (46%). 5-methyl cytosine was the only modified base detected and on average 23% of the cytosine residues are methylated. Immature tissues and protoplasts have significantly lower levels of cytosine methylation (average 20%) than mature tissues (average 25%). Mature pollen has an intermediate level of methylation (22%). Seeds gave the highest value (27%), suggesting de novo methylation after pollination and during seed development. Based on isoschizomer studies we estimate 55% of the CpG target sites (detected by Msp I/Hpa II) and 85% of the CpNpG target sites (detected by Bst NI/Eco RI) are methylated. Unmethylated target sites (both CpG and CpNpG) are not randomly distributed throughout the genome, but frequently occur in clusters. These clusters resemble CpG islands recently reported in maize and tobacco. The low G + C content and high levels of cytosine methylation in tomato may be due to previous transitions of 5mC----T. This is supported by the fact that G + C levels are lowest in non-coding portions of the genome in which selection is relaxed and thus transitions are more likely to be tolerated. This hypothesis is also supported by the general deficiency of methylation target sites in the tomato genome, especially in non-coding regions. Using methylation isoschizomers and RFLP analysis we have also determined that polymorphism between plants, for cytosine methylation at allelic sites, is common in tomato. Comparing DNA from two tomato species, 20% of the polymorphisms detected by Bst NI/Eco RII could be attributed to differential methylation at the CpNpG target sites. With Msp I/Hpa II, 50% of the polymorphisms were attributable to methylation (CpG and CpNpG sites). Moreover, these polymorphisms were demonstrated to be inherited in a mendelian fashion and to co-segregate with the methylation target site and thus do not represent variation for transacting factors that might be involved in methylation of DNA. The potential role of heritable methylation polymorphism in evolution of gene regulation and in RFLP studies is discussed.