Sesbania virgata (Cav.) Pers (wand riverhemp) is a fast-growing tropical legume species that has been used for revegetation of riparian forests and rehabilitation of degraded areas and that exhibits an invasive behavior in certain regions of Brazil. Preliminary studies have shown that seed leachates inhibit the germination and development of seedlings of some crop species. In this study, we report that the seed leachates of S. virgata inhibit the growth of Arabidopsis thaliana and rice. The flavonoid (+)-catechin is found in high amounts in these leachates. It was active at concentrations of 50 microg ml(-1), and its effect was not distinguishable from the (+)-catechin obtained from a commercial source. We found that (+)-catechin is located in the seed coat and is rapidly released in high concentrations (235 microg per seed) at the beginning of imbibition. Quercetin was also detected in the seed coat of S. virgata, but it was not released from the seeds. Other phytotoxic compounds in the seed leachates were also detected. The fact that S. virgata releases high amounts of (+)-catechin, which also has antimicrobial activity, and other phytotoxins from its seeds at the earliest stages of its development might represent some adaptative advantage to the seedling that contributes to its invasive behavior and successful establishment in different soils.