The group of planctomycetes represents a separate line of descent within the domain Bacteria. Two phylum-specific 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes for planctomycetes have been designed, optimized for in situ hybridization and used in different habitats to detect members of the group in situ. The probes, named PLA46 and PLA886, are targeting all or nearly all members of the planctomycete line of descent. Planctomycetes could be detected in almost all samples examined, e.g. a brackish water lagoon, activated sludge, and other wastewater habitats. In situ probing revealed quite uniform morphology and spatial arrangement of the detected cells but profound differences in abundance ranging from less than 0.1% to several percentage of the total cells. Single coccoid cells with diameters between 1 and 2.5 microm were dominating in most samples with the exception of the lagoon, in which rosettes of pear-shaped cells were abundant. The planctomycetes showed generally no hybridization signals with the bacterial probe EUB338, which is in accordance with base changes in their 165 rRNA sequences. A discrete ultrastructure of planctomycete cells was suggested by double staining with rRNA-targeted probes and the DNA-binding dye 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). The probe-conferred fluorescence was distributed in a ring-shaped manner around a central DAPI spot. The two probes developed extend the existing set of group-specific rRNA-targeted probes and help to elucidate the basic composition of bacterial communities in a first step of differential analysis. In situ hybridization of environmental samples indicated widespread presence of planctomycetes in different ecosystems.