Seeds of Oryza sativa L. (desiccation tolerant, orthodox) completed each of five distinct stages of development approximately 7 days earlier than seeds of Porteresia coarctata (Roxb.) Tateoka (desiccation intolerant, recalcitrant), despite the fact that O. sativa plants matured under cooler conditions. Isolated embryos of O. sativa were more sensitive to rapid desiccation at 6 days post anthesis (DPA) compared with naked caryopses. More than 90% of the latter were desiccation tolerant at 8 DPA and at all stages tested the germination capacity and/or rate of germination was greater following drying. In contrast, drying resulted in a complete loss of viability in seeds of P. coarctata at all stages tested. In both species, abscisic acid (ABA) began to accumulate in embryos mid-way through development. At the respective peaks, the concentration of ABA in P. coarctata was twice that recorded in O. sativa confirming that ABA levels per se do not determine desiccation tolerance in seeds. The possibility that desiccation tolerance is linked to sensitivity to ABA is discussed.