In mammals and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, sphingolipids have been a subject of intensive research triggered by the interest in their structural diversity and in mammalian pathophysiology as well as in the availability of yeast mutants and suppressor strains. More recently, sphingolipids have attracted additional interest, because they are emerging as an important class of messenger molecules linked to many different cellular functions. In plants, sphingolipids show structural features differing from those found in animals and fungi, and much less is known about their biosynthesis and function. This review focuses on the sphingolipid modifications found in plants and on recent advances in the functional characterization of genes gaining new insight into plant sphingolipid biosynthesis. Recent studies indicate that plant sphingolipids may be also involved in signal transduction, membrane stability, host-pathogen interactions and stress responses.