The photoreceptive extreme tip of the wheat coleoptile exhibits intense green-yellow fluorescence under UV light, suggesting the presence of UV-absorbing materials. Fluorescence spectra of the intact coleoptile tip and tip homogenate showed the presence of the known photoreceptor pigments flavin and carotene, and a preponderance of phenolic compounds. Absorption spectra and fluorescence spectra of various phenolic compounds showed close overlap with the absorption and fluorescence spectra of the wheat coleoptile tip homogenate. Fluorescence spectra of several phenolic compounds showed close overlap with the absorption bands of flavin, carotene and pterine, suggesting possible energy transduction from phenols to these photoreceptors. Excitation of gentisic acid and ferulic acid with 340 nm light in the presence of flavin showed enhancement of flavin fluorescence in a concentration- and viscosity-dependent fashion, indicating fluorescence resonance energy transfer between them and riboflavin. Furthermore, several phenolic compounds tested generated superoxide anion on excitation at 340 nm, suggesting that superoxide-dependent signal cascades could operate in a polyphenol-mediated pathway. Phenolic compounds thus may act as accessory photoreceptors bringing about excitation energy transfer to the reactive photoreceptor molecules, or they may take over the function of the normal photoreceptor in genetic mutations lacking the system, or both processes may occur. The responses of plants to UV-B and UV-A light in mutants may be explained in terms of various phenolics acting as energy transducers in photoreceptor functioning.