Elevation of arsenic levels in soils causes considerable concern with respect to plant uptake and subsequent entry into wildlife and human food chains. Arsenic speciation in the environment is complex, existing in both inorganic and organic forms, with interconversion between species regulated by biotic and abiotic processes. To understand and manage the risks posed by soil arsenic it is essential to know how arsenic is taken up by the roots and metabolized within plants. Some plant species exhibit phenotypic variation in response to arsenic species, which helps us to understand the toxicity of arsenic and the way in which plants have evolved arsenic resistances. This knowledge, for example, could be used produce plant cultivars that are more arsenic resistant or that have reduced arsenic uptake. This review synthesizes current knowledge on arsenic uptake, metabolism and toxicity for arsenic resistant and nonresistant plants, including the recently discovered phenomenon of arsenic hyperaccumulation in certain fern species. The reasons why plants accumulate and metabolize arsenic are considered in an evolutionary context.