Cadmium and zinc show similarities in their chemistry, geochemistry and environmental properties. Whereas Cd is a phytotoxic non-essential element, Zn is an essential trace element for plant growth and development. Zinc plays a fundamental role in several key cellular functions, such as protein metabolism, gene expression, chromatin structure, photosynthetic carbon metabolism and indole acetic acid metabolism (Vallee and Falchuk, 1993; Marschner, 1995; Bonnet et al., 2000; Cakmak and Braun, 2001). Zinc is also an important component of many enzymes and proteins (Broadley et al., 2007). Cadmium can readily inhibit most of the Zn-dependent processes by binding to the membrane and to enzyme active sites, thus inactivating their functions (Aravind and Prasad, 2005). However, increasing Zn concentrations can replace such wrongly bound Cd (Van Assche and Clijsters, 1990; Shaw et al., 2004). Cadmium has been shown to cause many morphological, physiological, biochemical and structural changes in plants, such as growth inhibition, reduction in photosynthesis, transpiration or water imbalance (Sanità di Toppi and Gabbrielli, 1999; Schützendübel et al., 2001; Benavides et al., 2005; Mishra et al., 2006). Cadmium and high zinc concentration affect plant growth and metabolism, but the intensity of their toxic effects depends on plant species and the way and duration of metal exposure. Plants called hyperaccumulators are able to tolerate and accumulate extraordinary levels of trace elements in their above-ground tissue without developing any toxicity symptoms (Baker and Brooks, 1989; Reeves and Baker, 2000). Their high metal accumulation capability makes them interesting for the decontamination technique called phytoextraction, which uses plants for environmental clean-up (Salt et al., 1998). However, their low biomass production strongly limits the real application of this soil decontamination strategy. The ideal plant for phytoextraction should provide both a high biomass and a high tolerance and metal accumulation (Schwitzguébel et al., 2002). High biomass producing plants with improved tolerance to trace elements and with an enhanced metal accumulation capacity should be good candidates for metal removal from contaminated area. Previous studies have shown enhanced tolerance and metal accumulation properties in transgenic tobacco plants (Pomponi et al., 2006; Gorinova et al., 2007; Wojas et al., 2008). However, the main disadvantage of genetic engineering is still public acceptance and free-land application. In vitro breeding techniques have also been successfully used to obtain tobacco lines with a considerably enhanced Cd, Zn and Cu tolerance and metal accumulation (Herzig et al., 1997; Guadagnini et al., 1999; Herzig et al., 2003). In addition, the chemical mutagen ethyl methane sulphonate has been used to develop new sunflower lines with a significantly enhanced biomass and metal uptake on a metal contaminated field (Nehnevajova et al., 2007, 2009). Although these field experiments have revealed the potential of sunflower mutants for metal phytoextraction, their tolerance to trace elements and the effect of Cd and Zn on growth and photosynthetic pigments were not studied within previous free-land experimentation. The aim of the present work was thus to assess the tolerance to Cd and excess Zn of selected sunflower mutant lines with improved biomass and metal uptake capacity, by measuring different physiological parameters. For such a purpose, sunflower seedlings of eight selected mutant lines were cultivated under hydroponic conditions in the presence and in the absence of Cd and Zn to study the effect of these trace elements on (1) growth parameters, such as root elongation, root and shoot dry mass; (2) chlorophyll content; (3) carotenoid content; (4) Cd and Zn accumulation capacity of sunflower mutants; and (5) a possible correlation between Cd and Zn accumulation in sunflower shoots and roots.