Allium cepa var. agrogarum L. seedlings grown in nutrient solution were subjected to increasing concentrations of Cd2+ (0, 1, 10, 100 μM). Variation in tolerance to cadmium toxicity was studied based on chromosome aberrations, nucleoli structure and reconstruction of root tip cells, Cd accumulation and mineral metabolism, lipid peroxidation, and changes in the antioxidative defense system (SOD, CAT, POD) in leaves and roots of the seedlings. Cd induced chromosome aberrations including C-mitoses, chromosome bridges, chromosome fragments and chromosome stickiness. Cd induced the production of some particles of argyrophilic proteins scattered in the nuclei and even extruded from the nucleoli into the cytoplasm after a high Cd concentration or prolonged Cd stress, and nucleolar reconstruction was inhibited. In Cd2+-treated Allium cepa var. agrogarum plants the metal was largely restricted to the roots; very little of it was transported to aerial parts. Adding Cd2+ to the nutrient solution affected mineral metabolism. For example, at 100 μM Cd it reduced the levels of Mn, Cu and Zn in roots, bulbs and leaves. Malondialdehyde content in roots and leaves increased with treatment time and increased concentration of Cd. Antioxidant enzymes appear to play a key role in resistance to Cd under stress conditions.