The genome sequence of Populus trichocarpa was screened for genes encoding cellulose synthases by using full-length cDNA sequences and ESTs previously identified in the tissue specific cDNA libraries of other poplars. The data obtained revealed 18 distinct CesA gene sequences in P. trichocarpa. The identified genes were grouped in seven gene pairs, one group of three sequences and one single gene. Evidence from gene expression studies of hybrid aspen suggests that both copies of at least one pair, CesA3-1 and CesA3-2, are actively transcribed. No sequences corresponding to the gene pair, CesA6-1 and CesA6-2, were found in Arabidopsis or hybrid aspen, while one homologous gene has been identified in the rice genome and an active transcript in Populus tremuloides. A phylogenetic analysis suggests that the CesA genes previously associated with secondary cell wall synthesis originate from a single ancestor gene and group in three distinct subgroups. The newly identified copies of CesA genes in P. trichocarpa give rise to a number of new questions concerning the mechanism of cellulose synthesis in trees.