The increasing use of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO-NPs) in various commercial products is prompting detailed investigation regarding the fate of these materials in the environment. There is, however, a lack of information comparing the transformation of ZnO-NPs with soluble Zn(2+) in both soils and plants. Synchrotron-based techniques were used to examine the uptake and transformation of Zn in various tissues of cowpea ( Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.) exposed to ZnO-NPs or ZnCl2 following growth in either solution or soil culture. In solution culture, soluble Zn (ZnCl2) was more toxic than the ZnO-NPs, although there was substantial accumulation of ZnO-NPs on the root surface. When grown in soil, however, there was no significant difference in plant growth and accumulation or speciation of Zn between soluble Zn and ZnO-NP treatments, indicating that the added ZnO-NPs underwent rapid dissolution following their entry into the soil. This was confirmed by an incubation experiment with two soils, in which ZnO-NPs could not be detected after incubation for 1 h. The speciation of Zn was similar in shoot tissues for both soluble Zn and ZnO-NPs treatments and no upward translocation of ZnO-NPs from roots to shoots was observed in either solution or soil culture. Under the current experimental conditions, the similarity in uptake and toxicity of Zn from ZnO-NPs and soluble Zn in soils indicates that the ZnO-NPs used in this study did not constitute nanospecific risks.