Nonselective cation channels (NSCCs) catalyse passive fluxes of cations through plant membranes. NSCCs do not, or only to a small extent, select between monovalent cations, and several are also permeable to divalent cations. Although a number of NSCC genes has been identified in plant genomes, a direct correlation between gene products and in vivo observed currents is still largely absent for most NSCCs. In this review, physiological functions and molecular properties of NSCCs are critically discussed. Recent studies have demonstrated that NSCCs are directly involved in a multitude of stress responses, growth and development, uptake of nutrients and calcium signalling. NSCCs can also function in the perception of external stimuli and as signal transducers for reactive oxygen species, pathogen elicitors, cyclic nucleotides, membrane stretch, amino acids and purines.