More than 3200 new mutant varieties have been bred and used by millions of farmers, which has significantly contributed to world food security. A lot more mutants have also served as tools for gene discovery and functional analysis. Recent genomic approaches including TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions In Genome) have enabled screening of mutations at the molecular level. This review describes the molecular nature of chemically and physically induced mutations and their repercussions. Analyses of TILLING reports indicate that chemically induced mutations are mostly nucleotide substitutions, but that mutation frequencies fluctuate among plant species ranging from one DNA lesion per 300 kbp in Arabidopsis to one DNA lesion per 30 kbp in bread wheat, which reciprocate with an increase in ploidy levels. The majority (>95%) of chemically induced DNA lesions are silent or missense mutations. Mutations induced by physical mutagens seem to be more diverse, including single-nucleotide substitutions, insertions, inversions and translocations, although short deletions ( < 15 bp) are relatively more predominant. The proportion of complex mutations (translocation, inversions, etc.) may increase with an increase in the linear energy transfer of radiations. In addition, the implications of these findings for the roles of induced mutants in breeding and gene function analysis are briefly discussed.