Understanding plant behaviour in polluted soils is critical for the sustainable remediation of metal-polluted sites including abandoned mines. Post-operational and abandoned metal mines particularly in semi-arid and arid zones are one of the major sources of pollution by soil erosion or plant hyperaccumulation bringing ecological impacts. We have selected from the literature 157 species belonging to 50 families to present a global overview of 'plants under action' against heavy metal pollution. Generally, all species of plants that are drought, salt and metal tolerant are candidates of interest to deal with harsh environmental conditions, particularly at semi-arid and arid mine sites. Pioneer metallophytes namely Atriplex nummularia, Atriplex semibaccata, Salsola kali, Phragmites australis and Medicago sativa, representing the taxonomic orders Caryophyllales, Poales and Fabales are evaluated in terms of phytoremediation in this review. Phytoremediation processes, microbial and algal bioremediation, the use and implication of tissue culture and biotechnology are critically examined. Overall, an integration of available remediation plant-based technologies, referred to here as 'integrated remediation technology,' is proposed to be one of the possible ways ahead to effectively address problems of toxic heavy metal pollution. Graphical abstract Integrated remediation technology (IRT) in metal-contaminated semi-arid and arid conditions. The hexagonal red line represents an IRT concept based on remediation decisions by combination of plants and microbial processes.