Background: Halophytes are the flora of saline soils. They adjust osmotically to soil salinity by accumulating ions and sequestering the vast majority of these (generally Na+ and Cl-) in vacuoles, while in the cytoplasm organic solutes are accumulated to prevent adverse effects on metabolism. At high salinities, however, growth is inhibited. Possible causes are: toxicity to metabolism of Na+ and/or Cl- in the cytoplasm; insufficient osmotic adjustment resulting in reduced net photosynthesis because of stomatal closure; reduced turgor for expansion growth; adverse cellular water relations if ions build up in the apoplast (cell walls) of leaves; diversion of energy needed to maintain solute homeostasis; sub-optimal levels of K+ (or other mineral nutrients) required for maintaining enzyme activities; possible damage from reactive oxygen species; or changes in hormonal concentrations. Scope: This review discusses the evidence for Na+ and Cl- toxicity and the concept of tissue tolerance in relation to halophytes. Conclusions: The data reviewed here suggest that halophytes tolerate cytoplasmic Na+ and Cl- concentrations of 100-200mM, but whether these ions ever reach toxic concentrations that inhibit metabolism in the cytoplasm or cause death is unknown. Measurements of ion concentrations in the cytosol of various cell types for contrasting species and growth conditions are needed. Future work should also focus on the properties of the tonoplast that enable ion accumulation and prevent ion leakage, such as the special properties of ion transporters and of the lipids that determine membrane permeability.