Background Silicon (Si) is known to have numerous beneficial effects on plants, alleviating diverse forms of abiotic and biotic stress. Research on this topic has accelerated in recent years and revealed multiple effects of Si in a range of plant species. Available information regarding the impact of Si on plant defence, growth and development is fragmented, discipline-specific, and usually focused on downstream, distal phenomena rather than underlying effects. Accordingly, there is a growing need for studies that address fundamental metabolic and regulatory processes, thereby allowing greater unification and focus of current research across disciplines. Scope and Conclusions Silicon is often regarded as a plant nutritional 'non-entity'. A suite of factors associated with Si have been recently identified, relating to plant chemistry, physiology, gene regulation and interactions with other organisms. Research to date has typically focused on the impact of Si application upon plant stress responses. However, the fundamental, underlying mechanisms that account for the manifold effects of Si in plant biology remain undefined. Here, the known effects of Si in higher plants relating to alleviation of both abiotic and biotic stress are briefly reviewed and the potential importance of Si in plant primary metabolism is discussed, highlighting the need for a unifying research framework targeting common underlying mechanisms. The traditional approach of discipline-specific work on single stressors in individual plant species is currently inadequate. Thus, a holistic and comparative approach is proposed to assess the mode of action of Si between plant trait types (e.g. C3, C4 and CAM; Si accumulators and non-accumulators) and between biotic and abiotic stressors (pathogens, herbivores, drought, salt), considering potential pathways (i.e. primary metabolic processes) highlighted by recent empirical evidence. Utilizing genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic approaches in such comparative studies will pave the way for unification of the field and a deeper understanding of the role of Si in plants.