The rational synthesis of hierarchical three-dimensional nanostructures with specific compositions, morphologies and functionalities is important for applications in a variety of fields ranging from energy conversion and electronics to biotechnology. Here, we report a seeded growth approach for the controlled epitaxial growth of three types of hierarchical one-dimensional (1D)/two-dimensional (2D) nanostructures, where nanorod arrays of II-VI semiconductor CdS or CdSe are grown on the selective facets of hexagonal-shaped nanoplates, either on the two basal facets of the nanoplate, or on one basal facet, or on the two basal facets and six side facets. The seed engineering of 2D hexagonal-shaped nanoplates is the key factor for growth of the three resulting types of 1D/2D nanostructures. The wurtzite- and zinc-blende-type polymorphs of semiconductors are used to determine the facet-selective epitaxial growth of 1D nanorod arrays, resulting in the formation of different hierarchical three-dimensional (3D) nanostructures. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.