Fractionation of mouse bone marrow by adherence to tissue culture plastic was used to characterize the adhesive properties of hematopoietic stem (HS) cells capable of long-term reconstitution. The adherent fraction that represents approximately 13% of the total marrow population was virtually devoid of in vitro colony-forming cells and spleen colony-forming cells but did contain approximately 30% of the total HS cells recovered from the procedure. These cells could be detected by both the competitive repopulation assay and by repopulation of W/Wv recipients. In approximately 60% of the recipients from the competitive repopulation experiments, the contribution of the adherent marrow cells was relatively low early (8 to 10 weeks) after transplantation. With time, however, the hematopoietic contribution from these cells increased, reaching a stable level 20 to 30 weeks posttransplantation. In the remaining recipients (40%), the contribution from adherent cells was already significant within 8 to 10 weeks of transplantation and did not change dramatically throughout the course of the experiment. Adherent bone marrow containing significant numbers of HS cells was unable to protect mice from radiation death, indicating that these early cells in the absence of later-stage progenitors are unable to provide this function.