The efficacy of several sugars and polyalcohols in preculture medium was investigated using Anigozanthos viridis ssp terraspectans Hopper (Haemodoraceae), a threatened plant species endemic to the south west of Western Australia. A vitrification protocol involving preculturing of shoot apices for 3 days on different concentrations of sugars and polyalcohols, followed by incubation in plant vitrification solution 2 (PVS2) for 25 min, prior to immersion in liquid nitrogen (LN) and warming resulted in shoot tip survival ranging from 34 to 84%. High levels of survival were obtained with polyalcohols, compared to sucrose, glucose, trehalose and rafiinose when used at the same molarity (0.4 M) or at the equivalent concentration of total hydroxyl (OH) groups present in molecules. In both cases glycerol proved more effective. When polyalcohols (ribitol and erythritol) with similar stereochemical arrangement of OH groups as glycerol were examined, at the same molarity (0.4 M) and with equivalent OH numbers, higher survival was achieved when the total number of OH groups present was the same as glycerol. Additionally, when the structural isomers mannitol/sorbitol and ribitol/xylitol were compared at the same molarity (0.4 M), the isomer with the higher number of OH groups along the same side resulted in significantly higher levels of post-LN survival. We propose that the mode of action of polyalcohsls is based not on molarity, but on the total number of OH groups present in the medium. Furthermore, based on these results we propose that the orientation of OH groups is a determining factor in effective cryopreservation, (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.