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Subtilases (SBTs) constitute a large family of serine peptidases. They are commonly found in Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya, with many more SBTs in plants as compared to other organisms. The expansion of the SBT family in plants was accompanied by functional diversification, and novel, plant-specific physiological roles were acquired in the course of evolution. In addition to their contribution to general protein turnover, plant SBTs are involved in the development of seeds and fruits, the manipulation of the cell wall, the processing of peptide growth factors, epidermal development and pattern formation, plant responses to their biotic and abiotic environment, and in programmed cell death. Plant SBTs share many properties with their bacterial and mammalian homologs, but the adoption of specific roles in plant physiology is also reflected in the acquisition of unique biochemical and structural features that distinguish SBTs in plants from those in other organisms. In this article we provide an overview of the earlier literature on the discovery of the first SBTs in plants, and highlight recent findings with respect to their physiological relevance, structure and function.