The aim of this review is to survey the various naturally occurring phenanthrene compounds that have been isolated from different plants. Only one review has previously been published on this topic. Gorham (1989) reviewed the structures, biosynthesis, separations and spectroscopy of stilbenes and phenanthrenes. The present study furnishes an overview of the hydroxy or/and methoxy-substituted 9,10-dihydro/phenanthrenes, methylated, prenylated and other monomeric derivatives, dimeric and trimeric phenanthrenes and their biological activities. A fairly large number of phenanthrenes have been reported from higher plants, mainly in the Orchidaceae family, in the species Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum, Eria, Maxillaria, Bletilla, Coelogyna, Cymbidium, Ephemerantha and Epidendrum. A few phenanthrenes have been found in the Hepaticae class and Dioscoreaceae, Combretaceae and Betulaceae families. Their distribution correlates strongly with the taxonomic divisions. These plants have often been used in traditional medicine, and phenanthrenes have therefore been studied for their cytotoxicity, antimicrobial, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet aggregation, antiallergic activities and phytotoxicity. On the basis of 120 references, this review covers the phytochemistry and pharmacology of phenanthrenes, describing 252 compounds. This contribution stems from our work on the medicinal plant Tamus communis.