Plants were cultivated in a nutrient solution containing increasing cadmium concentrations (i.e. 0.001–25 μM), under strictly controlled growth conditions. Changes in both growth parameters and enzyme activities, directly or indirectly related to the cellular free radical scavenging systems, were studied in roots and leaves of 14-day-old maize plants (Zea mays L., cv. Volga) as a result of Cd uptake. A decrease in both shoot length and leaf dry biomass was found to be significant only when growing on 25 μM Cd, whereas concentrations of chlorophyll pigments in the 4th leaf decreased from 1.7 μM Cd on. Changes in enzyme activities occurred at lower Cd concentrations in solution leading to lower threshold values for Cd contents in plants than those observed for growth parameters. Peroxidase (POD; E.C. 188.8.131.52) activity increased in the 3rd and 4th leaf, but not in roots. In contrast, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PDH; E.C. 184.108.40.206), isocitrate dehydrogenase (ICDH; E.C. 220.127.116.11) and malic enzyme (ME; E.C. 18.104.22.168) activities decreased in the 3rd leaf. According to the relationship between the POD activity and the Cd content, a toxic critical value was set at 3 mg Cd per kg dry matter in the 3rd leaf and 5 mg Cd per kg dry matter in the 4th. Anionic POD were determined both in root and leaf protein extracts; however, no changes in the isoperoxidase pattern were detected in case of Cd toxicity. Results show that in contrast with growth parameters, the measurement of enzyme activities may be included as early biomarkers in a plant bioassay to assess the phytotoxicity of Cd-contaminated soils on maize plants.