Small heat shock proteins (sHsps) are produced ubiquitously in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells upon heat. The special importance of sHsps in plants is suggested by unusual abundance and diversity. Six classes of sHsps have been identified in plants based on their intracellular localization and sequence relatedness. In addition to heat stress, plant sHsps are also produced under other stress conditions and at certain developmental stages. Induction of sHsp gene expression and protein accumulation upon environmental stresses point to the hypothesis that these proteins play an important role in stress tolerance. The function of sHsps as molecular chaperones is supported by in vitro and in vivo assays. This review summarizes recent knowledge about plant sHsp gene expression, protein structure and functions.