The ultrastructure of the mature internode cell wall of Nitella opaca is described. It is interpreted in terms of a helicoidal array of cellulose microfibrils set in a matrix. A helicoid is a multiple 'plywood' made up of layers of parallel microfibrils. There is a progressive change in direction from ply to ply, giving rise to characteristic arced patterns in oblique sections. A critical tilting test, using an electron microscope fitted with a goniometric stage, showed the expected reversal of direction of the arced pattern. Nitella cell wall is thus more regularly structured than previous studies have shown. From a survey of the cell-wall literature, we show that such arced patterns are common. This indicates that the helicoidal structure may be more widespread than is generally realised, although numerous other cell walls show no signs of it. Nevertheless, there are examples in most major plant taxa, and in several types of cells, including wood tracheids. Most of the examples, however, need confirmation by tilting evidence. There are possible implications for wall morphogenesis. Helicoidal cell walls might arise by selfassembly via a liquid crystalline phase, since it is known that the cholesteric state is itself helicoidal. A computer graphics programme has been developed to plot the expected effects of growth strain on the patterns in oblique sections of helicoids with various original angles between consecutive layers. Herringbone patterns typical of crossed polylamellate texture can be generated in this way, indicating a possible mode of their formation.