Abstract Since stress can be defined as anything which reduces growth or performance, it follows that, if appropriate genetic variability is present, classical evolutionary changes in populations are to be expected in any situation where a consistent stress is occurring. There is now considerable evidence for such evolution, producing constitutive adaptations in plants in response to stress, which are specific to the stress concerned. Stress may however operate in a temporary or fluctuating manner. In these situations, facultative adaptations, able to be produced within a single genotype through phenotypic plasticity, will be more appropriate. Very different specific phenotypic response systems, both morphological or physiological, can be found in plants in relation to different fluctuating stresses, operating over a wide range of time scales. These response systems are under normal genetic control and appear to be products of normal evolutionary processes. They can however have quite complex features, analogous to the behavioural response systems in animals.