We provide direct evidence for phospholipase D (PLD) signaling in plants by showing that this enzyme is stimulated by the G protein activators mastoparan, ethanol, and cholera toxin. An in vivo assay for PLD activity in plant cells was developed based on the use of a "reporter alcohol" rather than water as a transphosphatidylation substrate. The product was a phosphatidyl alcohol, which, in contrast to the normal product phosphatidic acid, is a specific measure of PLD activity. When 32P-labeled cells were treated with 0.1% n-butanol, 32P-phosphatidyl butanol (32P-PtdBut) was formed in a time-dependent manner. In cells treated with any of the three G protein activators, the production of 32P-PtdBut was increased in a dose-dependent manner. The G protein involved was pertussis toxin insensitive. Ethanol could activate PLD but was itself consumed by PLD as transphosphatidylation substrate. In contrast, secondary alcohols (e.g., sec-butyl alcohol) activated PLD but did not function as substrate, whereas tertiary alcohols did neither. Although most of the experiments were performed with the green alga Chlamydomonas eugametos, the relevance for higher plants was demonstrated by showing that PLD in carnation petals could also be activated by mastoparan. The results indicate that PLD activation must be considered as a potential signal transduction mechanism in plants, just as in animals.