The structures, evolution and functions of alcohol dehydrogenase gene families and their products have been scrutinized for half a century. Our understanding of the enzyme structure and catalytic activity of plant alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH-P) is based on the vast amount of information available for its animal counterpart. The probable origins of the enzyme from a simple β-coil and eventual emergence from a glutathione-dependent formaldehyde dehydrogenase have been well described. There is compelling evidence that the small ADH gene families found in plants today are the survivors of multiple rounds of gene expansion and contraction. To the probable original function of their products in the terminal reaction of anaerobic fermentation have been added roles in yeast-like aerobic fermentation and the production of characteristic scents that act to attract animals that serve as pollinators or agents of seed dispersal and to protect against herbivores.