Aquatic plant species, populations, and communities should be used as indicators of the aquatic environment, allowing detection of ecosystem response to different stressors. Plant tissues bioaccumulate and concentrate toxin levels higher than what is present in the sediments; and this appears to be related to organic matter content, acidification, and buffering capacity. The majority of toxicity studies, most of these with heavy metals, have been done with several Lemna species and Vallisneria americana. Organic chemicals reviewed include pesticides and herbicides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other industrial contaminants. The use of aquatic plant communities as bioindicators of environmental quality was evaluated for specific characteristics and indices that may assess biological integrity. Indices such as the floristic quality index (FQI) and coefficient of conservatism (C) are pioneering efforts to describe the quality of natural areas and protect native biodiversity. Our case study in the Grand Calumet Lagoons found that 'least-impacted' sites had the greatest aquatic plant species richness, highest FQI and C values, and highest relative abundance. Lastly, we introduce the concepts necessary for the development of a plant index of biotic integrity. Development of reference conditions is essential to understanding aquatic plant community structure, function, individual health, condition, and abundance. Information on guild development and tolerance definition are also integral to the development of a multi-metric index.