Although silicon occurs in all plants, it is an element that is largely overlooked by many plant ecologists and most plant-related research on silicon comes from agronomy, archaeology, palaeontology and biogeochemistry. Plant silicon has many functions, acting biochemically as silicic acid and physically as amorphous silica. It contributes to cell and plant strength and enables plants to respond adaptively to environmental stresses. Consequently, plant silicon can increase plant fitness in many fundamental aspects of ecology, including plant-herbivore interactions, light interception, pathogen resistance and alleviation of abiotic stresses. Here, we provide an ecological perspective to research outcomes from diverse disciplines, showing that silicon is an important element in plant ecology that is worthy of greater attention.