To study if etiolation symptoms exist in plants grown under natural illumination conditions, under-soil epicotyl segments of light-grown pea (Pisum sativum) plants were examined and compared to those of hydroponically dark-grown plants. Light-, fluorescence- and electron microscopy, 77 K fluorescence spectroscopy, pigment extraction and pigment content determination methods were used. Etioplasts with prolamellar bodies and/or prothylakoids, protochlorophyll (Pchl) and protochlorophyllide (Pchlide) forms (including the flash-photoactive 655 nm emitting form) were found in the (pro)chlorenchyma of epicotyl segments under 3 cm soil depth; their spectral properties were similar to those of hydroponically grown seedlings. However, differences were found in etioplast sizes and Pchlide:Pchl molar ratios, which indicate differences in the developmental rates of the under-soil and of hydroponically developed cells. Tissue regions closer to the soil surface showed gradual accumulation of chlorophyll, and in parallel, decrease of Pchl and Pchlide. These results proved that etioplasts and Pchlide exist in soil-covered parts of seedlings even if they have a 3–4-cm long photosynthetically active shoot above the soil surface. This underlines that etiolation symptoms do develop under natural growing conditions, so they are not merely artificial, laboratory phenomena. Consequently, dark-grown laboratory plants are good models to study the early stages of etioplast differentiation and the Pchlide–chlorophyllide phototransformation.