Mechanical signals play many roles in cell and developmental biology. Several mechanotransduction pathways have been uncovered, but the mechanisms identified so far only address the perception of stress intensity. Mechanical stresses are tensorial in nature, and thus provide dual mechanical information: stress magnitude and direction. Here we propose a parsimonious mechanism for the perception of the principal stress direction. In vitro experiments show that microtubules are stabilized under tension. Based on these results, we explore the possibility that such microtubule stabilization operates in vivo, most notably in plant cells where turgor-driven tensile stresses exceed greatly those observed in animal cells.