Four common scanning electron microscope (SEM) processing techniques involving freeze-substitution and chemical fixation were compared with fresh unprocessed samples imaged in an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) using small pieces of potato tubers as test specimens. Potato tubers were chosen for this investigation because of their high moisture content and, consequently, the common need for extensive processing for conventional, high vacuum SEM imaging. ESEM results showed that the fresh unprocessed specimens were essentially unaltered, showing clear potato cell structure, morphology, and cell content. However, processed samples showed strong differences to the fresh samples: freeze-substituted specimens showed fine networks of material stretching across the surface of cells. These structures may represent fibrillar material or may be artifact caused during processing. Chemical fixation almost entirely destroyed the microstructure of these potato samples. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.