Many laboratory studies investigating chlorophyll fluorescence (F) of plants have provided sufficient evidence of the functional link between dynamic changes in photosynthetic activity and F emissions. Far fewer studies, however, have been devoted to detailed analysis of F emission under steady-state conditions, which may be amenable to measurement by passive spectroradiometers onboard airborne or satellite missions. Here, we provide a random-effects meta-analysis of studies using both passively (sun-induced) and actively (e.g. laser-induced) measured steady-state F for detecting stress reactions in terrestrial vegetation. Specifically, we review behaviour of F in red and far-red wavelengths, and also the red to far-red F ratio, for plants physiologically stressed by water deficit, temperature extremes, and nitrogen insufficiency. Results suggest that water stress is, in general, associated with a decline in red and far-red F signal intensity measured at both leaf and canopy levels, whereas the red to far-red F ratio displays an inconsistent behaviour. Chilling, for which only studies with active measurements at the leaf level are available, significantly increased red and far-red F, whereas heat stress produced a less convincing decrease in both F emissions, notably in canopies measured passively. The clearest indicator of temperature stress was the F ratio, which declined significantly and consistently. The F ratio was also the strongest indicator of nitrogen deficiency, revealing a nearly uniformly increasing pattern driven by predominantly declining far-red F. Although significant knowledge gaps were encountered for certain scales and F measurement techniques, the analyses indicate that future airborne or space-borne acquisitions of both red and far-red F signals would be beneficial for timely detection of plant stress events.