After the context is set by a brief description of the plant cell surface, emphasis is placed on one class of cell surface components, the arabinogalactan proteins. An expansion of knowledge regarding the structure, expression, and function of these proteoglycans has been initiated and is being sustained through new experimental approaches, including the development of monoclonal antibody probes and the cloning of cDNAs corresponding to core polypeptides. An examination of the structure of both the polypeptide and carbohydrate components of arabinogalactan proteins is presented with emphasis placed on recently deduced core polypeptide sequences. Information about the biosynthesis and turnover of arabinogalactan proteins is incomplete, especially with regard to the carbohydrate component. Although functions of arabinogalactan proteins have not been clearly identified, regulated expression and several other lines of evidence point to involvement in plant reproductive development, pattern formation, and somatic embryogenesis, as well as in the underlying processes of cell division, cell expansion, and cell death. Arabinogalactan proteins are compared with animal proteoglycans and mucins, and the results of searches for plant analogues of other animal extracellular matrix components are examined.