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 1H and 13C 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 Na(2)CO(3), 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.