Abstract Phytotoxicity data for aquatic plants have served a relatively minor role in regulatory decisions concerning the environmental hazard of most potential contaminants. A variety of phytotoxicity tests have been conducted with freshwater green algae, duckweed, blue-green algae, diatoms and rooted macrophytes (whole plants and seeds). Several test methods have been standardized for microalgae which are used primarily with chemicals, effluents, contaminated sediment elutriates and hazardous waste leachates. Current scientific understanding concerning the phytotoxic effects of these contaminants is based mostly on results for a few green algae. The greatest limitation of these results is their uncertain environmental relevance due to the large interspecific variation in response of standard algal test species and the unrealistic experimental test conditions. Results of the few field validation toxicity tests conducted to resolve this uncertainty have been chemical-specific and unpredictable. Aquatic vascular plants have been used less frequently than algae as test species. Duckweeds have been used more often than rooted submersed species but the uncertain nature of their sensitivities relative to animal and other plant species has limited their use. Regulatory interest in wetland protection, contaminated sediment evaluations and sediment quality criteria development will result in increased use of whole rooted plants and their seeds as test species. Overall, regardless of the test species, if phytotoxicity data are to be more available and effective in the hazard assessment process, additional information concerning species sensitivity, and environmental relevance of the results will be needed.