BACKGROUND: Histochemical staining of plant tissues with 4-dimethylaminocinnamaldehyde (DMACA) or vanillin-HCl is widely used to characterize spatial patterns of proanthocyanidin accumulation in plant tissues. These methods are limited in their ability to allow high-resolution imaging of proanthocyanidin deposits. RESULTS: Tissue embedding techniques were used in combination with DMACA staining to analyze the accumulation of proanthocyanidins in Lotus corniculatus (L.) and Trifolium repens (L.) tissues. Embedding of plant tissues in LR White or paraffin matrices, with or without DMACA staining, preserved the physical integrity of the plant tissues, allowing high-resolution imaging that facilitated cell-specific localization of proanthocyanidins. A brown coloration was seen in proanthocyanidin-producing cells when plant tissues were embedded without DMACA staining and this was likely to have been due to non-enzymatic oxidation of proanthocyanidins and the formation of colored semiquinones and quinones. CONCLUSIONS: This paper presents a simple, high-resolution method for analysis of proanthocyanidin accumulation in organs, tissues and cells of two plant species with different patterns of proanthocyanidin accumulation, namely Lotus corniculatus (birdsfoot trefoil) and Trifolium repens (white clover). This technique was used to characterize cell type-specific patterns of proanthocyanidin accumulation in white clover flowers at different stages of development.