The effects of added abscisic acid (ABA) on the stomatal behavior of Commelina communis L. were tested using three different systems. ABA was applied to isolated epidermis or to leaf pieces incubated in the light in bathing solutions perfused with CO2-free air. ABA was also fed to detached leaves in a transpiration bioassay. The apparent sensitivity of stomata to ABA was highly dependent on the method used to feed ABA. Stomata of isolated epidermis were apparently most sensitive to ABA, such that a concentration of 1 [mu]M caused almost complete stomatal closure. When pieces of whole leaves were floated on solutions of ABA of the same concentration, the stomata were almost completely open. The same concentration of ABA fed through the midrib of transpiring detached leaves caused an intermediate response. These differences in stomatal sensitivity to added ABA were found to be a function of differences in the ABA concentration in the epidermes. Comparison of the three application systems suggested that, when leaf pieces were incubated in ABA or fed with ABA through the midrib, accumulation of ABA in the epidermes was limited by the presence of the mesophyll. Even bare mesophyll incubated in ABA solution did not accumulate ABA. Accumulation of radioactivity by leaf pieces floated on [3H]ABA confirmed ABA uptake in this system. Experiments with tetcyclacis, an inhibitor of phaseic acid formation, suggested that rapid metabolism of ABA in mesophyll can have a controlling influence on ABA concentration in both the mesophyll and the epidermis. Inhibition of ABA catabolism with tetcyclacis allows ABA accumulation and increases the apparent sensitivity of stomata to applied ABA. The results are discussed in the context of an important role for ABA metabolism in the regulation of stomatal behavior.