X-Ray microanalysis of fully hydrated, bulk-frozen samples was used to measure concentrations of potassium, sodium and chloride in various cell types along seminal roots of barley (Hordeum vulgare L. cv. California Mariout) seedlings (1 to 150 mm from the tip). In the cytoplasm of all meristematic cells 1 mm from the root tip, the average concentrations of potassium and chloride were ca 200 and 15 mM, respectively. The potassium level was also high in the vacuoles of incipient xylem elements and did not drop to significantly lower values until 10 mm from the tip in protoxylem, 50 mm in early metaxylem and 150 mm in late metaxylem (LMX). Light microscopy observations (Nomarski optics) of hand-cut sections showed the presence of cytoplasmic strands and also the presence of intact cross walls in LMX up to a distance of 100 mm. Both quantitative analysis of ion contents and structural observations suggested that LMX elements act as a large transitional sink of accumulated ions and therefore may not function as a main pathway of transport until perforation of the end wall takes place 100–150 mm from the root tip. Treatment with 50 mM NaCl resulted in higher concentrations of sodium and chloride in LMX elements than in the surrounding cells, suggesting that living xylem elements, which develop a large central vacuole at an early stage of root differentiation, may assist in alleviating salinity stress in the meristematic region of barley root tips. Further, it is proposed that reabsorption of sodium and chloride from the LMX, especially before the disappearance of the cross walls, may provide a means of salinity tolerance.