Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) has important antioxidant and metabolic functions in both plants and animals, but humans, and a few other animal species, have lost the capacity to synthesize it. Plant-derived ascorbate is thus the major source of vitamin C in the human diet. Although the biosynthetic pathway of L-ascorbic acid in animals is well understood, the plant pathway has remained unknown-one of the few primary plant metabolic pathways for which this is the case. L-ascorbate is abundant in plants (found at concentrations of 1-5 mM in leaves and 25 mM in chloroplasts) and may have roles in photosynthesis and transmembrane electron transport. We found that D-mannose and L-galactose are efficient precursors for ascorbate synthesis and are interconverted by GDP-D-mannose-3,5-epimerase. We have identified an enzyme in pea and Arabidopsis thaliana, L-galactose dehydrogenase, that catalyses oxidation of L-galactose to L-galactono-1,4-lactone. We propose an ascorbate biosynthesis pathway involving GDP-D-mannose, GDP-L-galactose, L-galactose and L-galactono-1,4-lactone, and have synthesized ascorbate from GDP-D-mannose by way of these intermediates in vitro. The definition of this biosynthetic pathway should allow engineering of plants for increased ascorbate production, thus increasing their nutritional value and stress tolerance.