Legumes, and a very few non-legume plant species, are known to possess functioning haemoglobin genes. We describe here the characterization of a haemoglobin cDNA isolated from barley. The deduced amino acid sequence shows 71% amino acid identity with a non-legume haemoglobin gene, a further 16% of the residues being conservative replacements. The barley cDNA also hybridizes to genomic sequences in rye, maize and wheat. The demonstration of a gene from a monocotyledon with close sequence homology to the known non-legume plant haemoglobins fills a major gap in the known distribution of haemoglobin genes in the plant kingdom. The expression of the gene is induced in isolated barley aleurone layers exposed to anaerobic conditions, and the roots of flooding-stressed barley plants. The expression of the RNA under anoxic conditions is similar to that of a known anaerobic response gene, alcohol dehydrogenase. Our results suggest that the increased expression of haemoglobin RNA is an integral part of the normal anaerobic response in barley. The findings are discussed in the light of current theories of haemoglobin function and evolution.