Background: Colour is a consequence of the optical properties of an object and the visual system of the animal perceiving it. Colour is produced through chemical and structural means, but structural colour has been relatively poorly studied in plants. Scope: This Botanical Briefing describes the mechanisms by which structures can produce colour. In plants, as in animals, the most common mechanisms are multilayers and diffraction gratings. The functions of structural colour are then discussed. In animals, these colours act primarily as signals between members of the same species, although they can also play roles in camouflaging animals from their predators. In plants, multilayers are found predominantly in shade-plant leaves, suggesting a role either in photoprotection or in optimizing capture of photosynthetically active light. Diffraction gratings may be a surprisingly common feature of petals, and recent work has shown that they can be used by bees as cues to identify rewarding flowers. Conclusions: Structural colour may be surprisingly frequent in the plant kingdom, playing important roles alongside pigment colour. Much remains to be discovered about its distribution, development and function.