UV-B absorbing compounds (UACs) in present-day and fossil pollen, spores, cuticles, seed coats and wood have been evaluated as a proxy for past UV. This proxy may not only provide information on variation of stratospheric ozone and solar UV in the period preceding and during the Antarctic ozone hole (1974-present day), but also on the development and variation of the stratospheric ozone layer and solar surface UV during the evolution of life on Earth. Sporopollenin and cutin are highly resistant biopolymers, preserving well in the geological record and contain the phenolic acids p-coumaric (pCA) and ferulic acid (FA). pCA and FA represent a good perspective for a plant-based proxy for past surface UV radiation since they are induced by solar UV-B via the phenylpropanoid pathway (PPP). UV-B absorption by these monomers in the wall of pollen and spores and in cuticles may prevent damage to the cellular metabolism. Increased pCA and FA in pollen of Vicia faba exposed to enhanced UV-B was found in greenhouse experiments. Further correlative evidence comes from UV-absorbing compounds in spores from 1960-2000 comparing exposure of land plants (Lycopodium species) to solar UV before and during ozone depletion and comparing plants from Antarctica (severe ozone depletion), Arctic, and other latitudes with less or negligible ozone depletion. Wood-derived compounds guaiacyl (G), syringyl (S), and p-hydroxyphenyl (P) are produced via the PPP. The proportions of P, G, and S in the lignin differ between various plant groups (e.g. dicotyledons/monocotyledons, gymnosperms/angiosperms). It is hypothesized that this lignin composition and derived physiological and physical properties of lignin (such as tree-ring wood density) has potential as a proxy for palaeo-UV climate. However validation by exposure of trees to enhanced UV is lacking. pCA and FA also form part of cutin polymers and are found in extant and fossil Ginkgo leaf cuticles as shown by thermally-assisted hydrolysis and methylation (THM)-pyrolysis-GC-MS. Potentially, the time scale for reconstruction of ozone column thickness and UV-B based on the UAC UV proxy may be decadal, centennial, millennial and possibly billenial. For further development of the UACs and pCA and FA-based UV proxy, it is necessary to obtain the UV dose-response (content of UACs, pCA and FA in sporopollenin and cutin) relationships for validation, based on outdoor UV radiation manipulations experiments with plants, and comparative analysis of stored plants (herbaria) or fossil material of the same or related plant species. © 2009 The Royal Society of Chemistry and Owner Societies.