2,7-Dihydroxycadalene and lacinilene C, sesquiterpenoid phytoalexins that accumulate at infection sites during the hypersensitive resistant response of cotton foliage to Xanthomonas campestris pv. malvacearum, have light-dependent toxicity toward host cells, as well as toward the bacterial pathogen. Adaxial epidermal cells surrounding and sometimes covering infection sites turn red. The red cells exhibited 3-4-fold higher absorption at the photoactivating wavelengths of sunlight than nearby colorless epidermal cells. Red epidermal cells protected underlying palisade mesophyll cells from the toxic effects of 2,7-dihydroxycadalene plus sunlight, indicating a role for epidermal pigments in protecting living cells that surround infection sites from toxic effects of the plant's own phytoalexins. A semi-quantitative survey of UV-absorbing substances extracted from epidermal strips from inoculated and mock-inoculated cotyledons indicated that the principal increase in capacity to absorb the photoactivating wavelengths was due to a red anthocyanin and a yellow flavonol, which were identified as cyanidin-3-O-beta-glucoside and quercetin-3-O-beta-glucoside, respectively.