- Abstract Accumulating evidence lends support to the proposal that a major theme in plant responses to stresses is dedifferentiation, whereby mature cells acquire stem cell features (e.g. open chromatin conformation) prior to acquisition of a new cell fate. In this review, we discuss data addressing plant cell plasticity and provide evidence linking stress, dedifferentiation and a switch in cell fate. We emphasize the epigenetic modifications associated with stress-induced global changes in chromatin structure and conclude with the implications for genetic variation and for induced pluripotent stem cells in animals. It appears that stress is perceived as a signal that directs plant cells to undergo reprogramming (dedifferentiation) as a means for adaptation and in preparation for a stimulus-based acquisition of a new cell fate. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Stress as a fundamental theme in cell plasticity.