Low concentrations of salicylhydroxamic acid (<5 millimolar) stimulate O(2) uptake in intact roots of Pisum sativum. We demonstrate that the hydroxamate-stimulated O(2) uptake does not reside in the mitochondria. We also show that the hydroxamate-stimulated O(2) uptake is due to the activation of a peroxidase catalyzing reduction of O(2). This peroxidase, which can use both NADH and NADPH as a substrate, is stimulated by low concentrations of monophenols, e.g. salicylhydroxamic acid and 2-methoxyphenol. It is inhibited by high (20 millimolar) concentrations of salicylhydroxamic acid, cyanide, and scavengers of the superoxide free radical ion, e.g. ascorbate, gentisic acid, and catechol. In the presence of gentisic acid, O(2) uptake by intact pea roots was no longer stimulated by low concentrations of salicylhydroxamic acid. The consequence of the present finding for in vivo respiration measurements is that the use of low concentrations of salicylhydroxamic acid and uncoupler is reliable only in the presence of a suitable superoxide free radical scavenger which prevents activation of the peroxidase. It also confirms that high concentrations of salicylhydroxamic acid (20-25 millimolar) can be safely used in short-term experiments to assess the activity of the alternative path in intact roots.