Motor vehicles are now equipped with exhaust gas catalytic converters containing rare metals, such as palladium (Pd), platinum and rhodium, as catalytic active materials, leading to significantly increased emission of these metals. Compared with platinum and rhodium, low concentrations of Pd have been shown to have more serious effects on cells and organisms. In the present study, uptake of Pd by barley and behaviour of Pd nanoparticles in nutrient solutions used to grow plants were observed in order to develop a model of Pd exposure of plant systems. Pd determination was performed using a selective separation and pre-concentration procedure, which was further developed for this study, and coupled to graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. The results show that uptake of Pd depends on Pd particle diameter. Compared to other toxic metals, like mercury, Pd causes stress effects in leaves at lower concentrations in nutrient solutions. Furthermore, Pd particles are dissolved at different rates, depending on size, in the nutrient solution during plant growth.