Approximately 500 species of plants are known to hyperaccumulate heavy metals and metalloids. The majority are obligate metallophytes, species that are restricted to metalliferous soils. However, a smaller but increasing list of plants are "facultative hyperaccumulators" that hyperaccumulate heavy metals when occurring on metalliferous soils, yet also occur commonly on normal, non-metalliferous soils. This paper reviews the biology of facultative hyperaccumulators and the opportunities they provide for ecological and evolutionary research. The existence of facultative hyperaccumulator populations across a wide edaphic range allows intraspecific comparisons of tolerance and uptake physiology. This approach has been used to study zinc and cadmium hyperaccumulation by Noccaea (Thlaspi) caerulescens and Arabidopsis halleri, and it will be instructive to make similar comparisons on species that are distributed even more abundantly on normal soil. Over 90% of known hyperaccumulators occur on serpentine (ultramafic) soil and accumulate nickel, yet there have paradoxically been few experimental studies of facultative nickel hyperaccumulation. Several hypotheses suggested to explain the evolution of hyperaccumulation seem unlikely when most populations of a species occur on normal soil, where plants cannot hyperaccumulate due to low metal availability. In such species, it may be that hyperaccumulation is an ancestral phylogenetic trait or an anomalous manifestation of physiological mechanisms evolved on normal soils, and may or may not have direct adaptive benefits.