To investigate molecular mechanisms controlling plant morphogenesis, we examined the morphology of primary roots of Arabidopsis thaliana and the organization of cortical microtubules in response to inhibitors of serine/threonine protein phosphatases and kinases. We found that cantharidin, an inhibitor of types 1 and 2A protein phosphatases, as previously reported for okadaic acid and calyculin A (R.D. Smith, J.E. Wilson, J.C. Walker, T.I. Baskin  Planta 194: 516-524), inhibited elongation and stimulated radial expansion. Of the protein kinase inhibitors tested, chelerythrine, 6-dimethylaminopurine, H-89, K252a, ML-9, and staurosporine all inhibited elongation, but only staurosporine appreciably stimulated radial expansion. To determine the basis for the root swelling, we examined cortical microtubules in semithin sections of material embedded in butyl-methyl-methacrylate. Chelerythrine and 100 nM okadaic acid, which inhibited elongation without causing swelling, did not change the appearance of cortical arrays, but calyculin A, cantharidin, and staurosporine, which caused swelling, disorganized cortical microtubules. The stability of the microtubules in the aberrant arrays was not detectably different from those in control arrays, as judged by similar sensitivity to depolymerization by cold or oryzalin. These results identify protein phosphorylation and dephosphorylation as requirements in one or more steps that organize the cortical array of microtubules.