The promoter regions of most plastid transcription units have been reported to consist of prokaryotic -10 and -35-like consensus sequences. However, a few promoters with no homology to the consensus elements have also been characterized. A novel class of non-consensus plastid promoters--designated as non consensus type II (NC-II) promoters--that effect low-level constitutive expression of respective genes in photosynthetic as well as non-photosynthetic plastids is described in this paper. The abundance of NC-II promoter-derived transcripts remains unaltered even when light-grown seedlings are shifted to the dark. In contrast, transcripts from -10 and -35-like elements containing consensus type (CT) promoters accumulate to high levels in chloroplasts as compared with non-photosynthetic plastids of roots and cultured cells. Moreover, accumulation of these transcripts is greatly affected by light. The inhibition of plastid protein synthesis has no apparent effect on the abundance of the NC-II transcripts whereas levels of CT transcripts are greatly reduced. In vivo tagetitoxin (a plastid transcription inhibitor) treatment also reduces the levels of CT transcripts with no apparent inhibitory effect on the accumulation of NC-II transcripts. The accumulation of transcripts from both classes of promoters, however, is reduced when cytoplasmic protein synthesis is inhibited by in vivo treatment with cycloheximide. The results are suggestive of the possible existence of at least two distinctive systems for the synthesis and/or maintenance of plastid transcripts which differentiate between two classes of transcripts in a promoter-type specific manner.