Based on SEM examinations of about 5000 species of seed plants, this is a survey of their epidermal surface characters with an aim to application in taxonomy. Surface characters may be grouped into four categories: (1) Cellular arrangement or cellular pattern. (2) Shape of cells (the “primary sculpture” of a surface). (3) Relief of outer cell walls (the “secondary sculpture” superimposed on the primary sculpture), caused mainly by cuticular striations and superficially visible wall inclusions and wall thickenings. (4) Epicuticular secretions (the “tertiary sculpture” superimposed on the secondary sculpture), i.e. mainly waxes and related substances.

The systematic applicability is discussed for each of these structural groups. Epidermal characters are only slightly influenced by environmental conditions. Their high structural diversity provides most valuable criteria for the classification between species and family level. There is also some evidence for their systematic applicability above the family level.

The possible evolutionary–ecological significance of surface sculpturing is discussed briefly. There is evidence that these features may be seen primarily under the aspects of reduced ability of plants to contaminate and as temperature control mechanisms of the surfaces.