Polyamines are known to play important roles in plant stress tolerance but it has been difficult to determine precise functions for each type of polyamine and their interrelationships. To dissect the roles of putrescine from the higher polyamines spermidine and spermine, we generated transgenic rice plants constitutively expressing a heterologous S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (SAMDC) gene from Datura stramonium so that spermidine and spermine levels could be investigated while maintaining a constant putrescine pool. Whereas transgenic plants expressing arginine decarboxylase (ADC) produced higher levels of putrescine, spermidine and spermine, and were protected from drought stress, transgenic plants expressing SAMDC produced normal levels of putrescine and showed drought symptoms typical of wild type plants under stress, but the transgenic plants showed a much more robust recovery on return to normal conditions (90% full recovery compared to 25% partial recovery for wild type plants). At the molecular level, both wild type and transgenic plants showed transient reductions in the levels of endogenous ADC1 and SAMDC mRNA, but only wild type plants showed a spike in putrescine levels under stress. In transgenic plants, there was no spike in putrescine but a smooth increase in spermine levels at the expense of spermidine. These results confirm and extend the threshold model for polyamine activity in drought stress, and attribute individual roles to putrescine, spermidine and spermine.