Constitutive expression of a chimeric oat phytochrome gene in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) results in the accumulation of a functional 124-kilodalton photoreceptor that markedly alters the phenotype of light-grown tobacco (Keller et al.  EMBO J 8: 1005-1012). Here, we provide a detailed phenotypic and biochemical characterization of homozygous tobacco expressing high levels of oat phytochrome. Phenotypic changes include a substantial inhibition of stem elongation, decreased apical dominance, increased leaf chlorophyll content, and delayed leaf senescence. Oat phytochrome synthesized in tobacco is indistin-guishable from that present in etiolated oats, having photoreversible difference spectrum maxima at 665 and 730 nanometers, exhibiting negligible dark reversion of phytochrome - far red-absorbing form (Pfr) to phytochrome - red-absorbing form (Pr), and existing as a dimer with an apparent size of approximately 300 kilodaltons. Heterodimers between the oat and tobacco chromoproteins were detected. Endogenous tobacco phytochrome and transgenically expressed oat phytochrome are rapidly degraded in vivo upon photoconversion of Pr to Pfr. Breakdown of both oat and tobacco Pfr is associated with the accumulation of ubiquitin-phytochrome conjugates, suggesting that degradation occurs via the ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic pathway. This result indicates that the factors responsible for selective recognition of Pfr by the ubiquitin pathway are conserved between monocot and dicot phytochromes. More broadly, it demonstrates that the domain(s) within a plant protein responsible for its selective breakdown can be recognized by the degradation machinery of heterotogous species.