Posttranslational modifications allow dynamic and reversible changes to protein function. In Arabidopsis thaliana, a small gene family encodes paralogs of the small ubiquitin-like posttranslational modifier. We studied the function of these paralogs. Single mutants of the SUM1 and SUM2 paralogs do not exhibit a clear phenotype. However, the corresponding double knockdown mutant revealed that SUM1 and SUM2 are essential for plant development, floral transition, and suppression of salicylic acid (SA)-dependent defense responses. The SUM1 and SUM2 genes are constitutively expressed, but their spatial expression patterns do not overlap. Tight transcriptional regulation of these two SUM genes appears to be important, as overexpression of either wild-type or conjugation-deficient mutants resulted in activation of SA-dependent defense responses, as did the sum1 sum2 knockdown mutant. Interestingly, expression of the paralog SUM3 is strongly and widely induced by SA and by the defense elicitor Flg22, whereas its expression is otherwise low and restricted to a few specific cell types. Loss of SUM3 does not result in an aberrant developmental phenotype except for late flowering, while SUM3 overexpression causes early flowering and activates plant defense. Apparently, SUM3 promotes plant defense downstream of SA, while SUM1 and SUM2 together prevent SA accumulation in noninfected plants.