To develop a model plant system for efficient functional analysis of mutagenized phytochrome polypeptides, we have overexpressed oat phytochrome A in Arabidopsis thaliana. R1 seedlings from selfed primary transformants segregated for hypocotyl length, when grown in the light, with a ratio of 3 short to 1 of normal length. When homozygous lines were established from these two size classes, accumulation of immunologically detectable oat phytochrome cosegregated with the short-hypocotyl trait. The short-hypocotyl seedlings contained substantially more spectrally active phytochrome than their normal-sized siblings, indicating that the introduced oat protein was photoreversible. The short-hypocotyl phenotype was strictly light-dependent, since no morphological effects of phytochrome overexpression could be seen in etiolated seedlings. Overexpression of only the chromophore-bearing, N-terminal domain of phytochrome A did not induce short hypocotyls in light-grown seedlings, indicating that additional sequence is essential for photoreceptor function. Similarly, overexpression of a full-length sequence mutated at the chromophore attachment site had no effect on phenotype, indicating the absence of any detectable dominant negative effect of the chromophoreless polypeptide on the activity of endogenous Arabidopsis phytochrome. Thus, the readily scorable short-hypocotyl phenotype of Arabidopsis seedlings overexpressing phytochrome A provides a simple visual assay for rapidly monitoring the biological activity of mutagenized phytochrome A polypeptides.