In this study, we demonstrate that dissolved silica obtained from mineral (crystalline quartz), biogenic amorphous (diatomaceous earth) and artificial amorphous sources (Aerosil) influence the growth rate of two marine diatoms, Chaetoceros sp. and Skeletonema marinoi. Diatoms were reared in four different experimental conditions in artificial seawater containing either dissolved silica previously obtained through dissolution of the mineral crystalline quartz or two amorphous substrates, biogenic diatomaceous earth or artificial Aerosil silica. Sodium metasilicate was used as control. When the silica in the different media reached concentrations higher than 107 μm, particles were eliminated by filtration and the diatom cells were inoculated. Maximum cell density, growth and silica assimilation rates of both species in the presence of dissolved silica derived from crystalline quartz and metasilicate were higher than those obtained with the other silica sources. These results are discussed against the background of previous geochemical studies that have shown that silica–water interactions are strictly dependent on the silica polymorphs involved and on the ionic composition of the solution. Our results demonstrate that the soluble silicon compounds generated in seawater by crystalline sources are highly bioavailable compared with those generated by biogenic and amorphous materials. These findings are potentially of considerable ecological importance and may contribute to clarifying anomalous spatial and temporal distributions of siliceous organisms with respect to the presence of lithogenic or biogenic silica sources in marine environments.