Heavy metals are an interesting group of trace elements (TEs). Some of them are minutely required for normal plant growth and development, while others have unknown biological actions. They may cause injury when they are applied in an elevated concentration, regardless of the importance for the plant functioning. On the other hand, their application may help to alleviate various abiotic stresses. In this review, both the deleterious and beneficial effects of metallic trace elements from their uptake by roots and leaves, through toxicity, up to the regulation of physiological and molecular mechanisms that are associated with plant protection against stress conditions have been briefly discussed. We have highlighted the involvement of metallic ions in mitigating oxidative stress by the activation of various antioxidant enzymes and emphasized the phenomenon of low-dose stimulation that is caused by non-essential, potentially poisonous elements called hormesis, which is recently one of the most studied issues. Finally, we have described the evolutionary consequences of long-term exposure to metallic elements, resulting in the development of unique assemblages of vegetation, classified as metallophytes, which constitute excellent model systems for research on metal accumulation and tolerance. Taken together, the paper can provide a novel insight into the toxicity concept, since both dose- and genotype-dependent response to the presence of metallic trace elements has been comprehensively explained.
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