Acid hydrolysis of cell wall-rich material from thalli of the hornwort Anthoceros caucasicus yielded substantial amounts of an unusual disaccharide (1). Hydrolysis of 1 yielded only GlcA, Gal and unhydrolysed 1. Compound 1 was identified as alpha-D-GlcpA-(1-->3)-L-Gal by H-1 and C-13 NMR spectroscopic analysis and by the susceptibility of its monosaccharide units to phosphorylation by enantiomer-specific kinases. Compound 1 was not detected in acid hydrolysates of other land plants including mosses, leafy and thalloid liverworts, lycopodiophytes and euphyllophytes; it was also absent from charophytes. The Anthoceros polysaccharide that yields 1 was partially extractable in cold aqueous buffer (pH 4.7) and Na2CO3, but not in EDTA or NaOH, suggesting that it was not a typical pectin or hemicellulose. The yield of 1 from various polysaccharide fractions correlated with the yields of Xyl, suggesting a previously unreported polymer containing D-GlcA, L-Gal and Xyl. The existence of a unique polysaccharide in an evolutionarily isolated plant (Anthoceros) supports the view that major steps in plant phylogeny were accompanied by significant changes in cell wall composition. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.