Ethylene is produced in wood-forming tissues, and when applied exogenously, it has been shown to cause profound effects on the pattern and rate of wood development. However, the molecular regulation of ethylene biosynthesis during wood formation is poorly understood. We have characterised an abundant 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid (ACC) oxidase gene (PttACO1) in the wood-forming tissues of Populus tremula (L.) × P. tremuloides (Michx). PttACO1 is primarily expressed in developing secondary xylem, and is specifically upregulated during secondary wall formation. Nevertheless, according to GC–MS analysis combined with tangential cryosectioning, the distribution of ACC was found to be fairly uniform across the cambial-region tissues. Gravitational stimulation, which causes tension wood to form on the upper side of the stem, resulted in a strong induction of PttACO1 expression and ACC oxidase activity in the tension wood-forming tissues. The ACC levels increased in parallel to the PttACO1 expression. However, the increase on the upper (tension wood) side was only minor, whereas large amounts of both ACC and its hydrolysable conjugates accumulated on the lower (opposite) side of the stem. This suggests that the relatively low level of ACC on the tension wood side is a result of its conversion to ethylene by the highly upregulated PttACO1, and the concurrent accumulation of ACC on the opposite side of the wood is because of the low PttACO1 levels. We conclude that PttACO1 and ACC oxidase activity, but not ACC availability, are important in the control of the asymmetric ethylene production within the poplar stem when tension wood is induced by gravitational stimulation.