© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology. Phosphite is a less oxidized form of phosphorus than phosphate. Phosphite is considered to be taken up by the plant through phosphate transporters. It can mimic phosphate to some extent, but it is not metabolized into organophosphates. Phosphite could therefore interfere with phosphorus signalling networks. Typical physiological and transcriptional responses to low phosphate availability were investigated and the short-term kinetics of their reversion by phosphite, compared with phosphate, were determined in both roots and shoots of Arabidopsis thaliana. Phosphite treatment resulted in a strong growth arrest. It mimicked phosphate in causing a reduction in leaf anthocyanins and in the expression of a subset of the phosphate-starvation-responsive genes. However, the kinetics of the response were slower than for phosphate, which may be due to discrimination against phosphite by phosphate transporters PHT1;8 and PHT1;9 causing delayed shoot accumulation of phosphite. Transcripts encoding PHT1;7, lipid-remodelling enzymes such as SQD2, and phosphocholine-producing NMT3 were highly responsive to phosphite, suggesting their regulation by a direct phosphate-sensing network. Genes encoding components associated with the 'PHO regulon' in plants, such as At4, IPS1, and PHO1;H1, generally responded more slowly to phosphite than to phosphate, except for SPX1 in roots and MIR399d in shoots. Two uncharacterized phosphate-responsive E3 ligase genes, PUB35 and C3HC4, were also highly phosphite responsive. These results show that phosphite is a valuable tool to identify network components directly responsive to phosphate.