The genomic organization and diversity of the Ty1-copia group retrotransposons has been investigated in a monocotyledonous plant, Allium cepa. We used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to generate sequences corresponding to a conserved domain of the reverse transcriptase gene of Ty1-copia retrotransposons in this plant. Sequence analysis of 27 of these PCR products shows that they are a highly heterogeneous population, a feature which is common in plants but not in yeast and Drosophila. Slot-blot analysis shows there are 100,000-200,000 copies of Ty1-copia group retrotransposons within the A. cepa genome (2C = 31.7 pg), indicating that they are a significant component of the genome of this plant. In situ hybridization to metaphase chromosomes reveals that Ty1-copia retrotransposons are distributed throughout the euchromatin of all chromosomes of A. cepa but are enriched in the terminal heterochromatic regions, which contain tandem arrays of satellite sequences. This is the first clear evidence for the presence of Ty1-copia retrotransposons in the terminal heterochromatin of plants and contrasts with the distribution of these elements in other plant species.