The physiological relationship between abiotic stress in plants and polyamines was reported more than 40 years ago. Ever since there has been a debate as to whether increased polyamines protect plants against abiotic stress (e.g., due to their ability to deal with oxidative radicals) or cause damage to them (perhaps due to hydrogen peroxide produced by their catabolism). The observation that cellular polyamines are typically elevated in plants under both short-term as well as long-term abiotic stress conditions is consistent with the possibility of their dual effects, i.e., being protectors from as well as perpetrators of stress damage to the cells. The observed increase in tolerance of plants to abiotic stress when their cellular contents are elevated by either exogenous treatment with polyamines or through genetic engineering with genes encoding polyamine biosynthetic enzymes is indicative of a protective role for them. However, through their catabolic production of hydrogen peroxide and acrolein, both strong oxidizers, they can potentially be the cause of cellular harm during stress. In fact, somewhat enigmatic but strong positive relationship between abiotic stress and foliar polyamines has been proposed as a potential biochemical marker of persistent environmental stress in forest trees in which phenotypic symptoms of stress are not yet visible. Such markers may help forewarn forest managers to undertake amelioration strategies before the appearance of visual symptoms of stress and damage at which stage it is often too late for implementing strategies for stress remediation and reversal of damage. This review provides a comprehensive and critical evaluation of the published literature on interactions between abiotic stress and polyamines in plants, and examines the experimental strategies used to understand the functional significance of this relationship with the aim of improving plant productivity, especially under conditions of abiotic stress.