Our understanding of how the 3' ends of mRNAs are formed in plants is rudimentary compared to what we know about this process in other eukaryotes. The salient features of plant pre-mRNAs that signal cleavage and polyadenylation remain obscure, and the biochemical mechanism is as yet wholly uncharacterized. Nevertheless, despite the lack of universally conserved cis-acting motifs, a common underlying architecture is emerging from functional analyses of plant poly(A) signals, allowing meaningful comparison with components of poly(A) signals in other eukaryotes. A plant poly(A) signal consists of one or more near-upstream elements (NUE), each directing processing at a poly(A) site a short distance downstream of it, and an extensive far-upstream element (FUE) that enhances processing efficiency at all sites. By analogy with other systems, a model for a plant 3'-end processing complex can be proposed. Plant poly(A) polymerases have been isolated and partially characterised. These, together with hints that some processing factors are conserved in different organisms, opens promising avenues toward initial characterisation of the trans-acting factors involved in 3'-end formation of mRNAs in higher plants.