Mass spectral fragmentation of quinoline alkaloids of significance in plants has been investigated using electrospray ionisation ion trap mass spectrometry (ESI-MSn) with a view to characterisation of molecules of unknown structure isolated from these natural sources. This investigation has led to the generation of an appropriate database incorporating data from ESI-MSn and also from gas liquid chromatography (GLC) and liquid chromatography (HPLC) for these low molecular mass quinolines. This has been put to practical application in the identification of quinoline alkaloids in a plant extract. Thus, an acid extraction of the leaves of Choisya ternata containing such tertiary alkaloids was analysed by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry (HPLC-ESI-MS) and the resulting behaviour of the quinolines was compared with that of the quinoline alkaloids in the database. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.