Abscisic acid (ABA) is not a plant-specific compound but one found in organisms across kingdoms from bacteria to animals, suggesting that it is a ubiquitous and versatile substance that can modulate physiological functions of various organisms. Recent studies have shown that plants developed an elegant system for ABA sensing and early signal transduction mechanisms to modulate responses to environmental stresses for survival in terrestrial conditions. ABA-induced increase in stress tolerance has been reported not only in vascular plants but also in non-vascular bryophytes. Since bryophytes are the key group of organisms in the context of plant evolution, clarification of their ABA-dependent processes is important for understanding evolutionary adaptation of land plants. Molecular approaches using Physcomitrella patens have revealed that ABA plays a role in dehydration stress tolerance in mosses, which comprise a major group of bryophytes. Furthermore, we recently reported that signaling machinery for ABA responses is also conserved in liverworts, representing the most basal members of extant land plant lineage. Conservation of the mechanism for ABA sensing and responses in angiosperms and basal land plants suggests that acquisition of this mechanism for stress tolerance in vegetative tissues was one of the critical evolutionary events for adaptation to the land. This review describes the role of ABA in basal land plants as well as non-land plant organisms and further elaborates on recent progress in molecular studies of model bryophytes by comparative and functional genomic approaches.