Although the structural features of centromeres from most multicellular eukaryotes remain to be characterized, recent analyses of the complete sequences of two centromeric regions of rice, together with data from Arabidopsis thaliana and maize, have illuminated the considerable size variation and sequence divergence of plant centromeres. Despite the severe suppression of meiotic chromosomal exchange in centromeric and pericentromeric regions of rice, the centromere core shows high rates of unequal homologous recombination in the absence of chromosomal exchange, resulting in frequent and extensive DNA rearrangement. Not only is the sequence of centromeric tandem and non-tandem repeats highly variable but also the copy number, spacing, order and orientation, providing ample natural variation as the basis for selection of superior centromere performance. This review article focuses on the structural and evolutionary dynamics of plant centromere organization and the potential molecular mechanisms responsible for the rapid changes of centromeric components. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.