The literature on nitrogen (N) form effects on plants at different stages of their development has been critically reviewed, assessing the possible mechanisms of these effects. In particular, nitrate (NO3−) was compared with the other forms of N utilised by plants. It is concluded that the form of N available to plants can affect their time and rate of seed germination, leaf expansion and function, dry matter partitioning between shoot and root, and root architecture. The magnitude of these effects is dependent on environmental factors outside the supply of N. The mechanism of these effects is variable. Assessment of the importance of root or shoot NO3− assimilation under different environmental conditions is an important area for further study.