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On Si(1 1 1) and Si(0 0 1), GaN nanowires (NWs) form in a self-induced way without the need for any external material. On sapphire, NW growth is induced by Ni collectors. Both types of NWs exhibit the wurtzite crystal structure and grow in the Ga-polar C-direction perpendicular to the substrate. The NW sidewalls are M-plane facets, although on the Ni-induced NWs also A-plane segments form, if the growth temperature is low. Both self-induced and collector-induced NWs are free of strain and epitaxially aligned to the substrate, but in particular the former show a significant spread in tilt and twist caused by a mostly amorphous interfacial layer of Si-N. The self-induced NWs are virtually free of extended defects, but the collector-induced NWs contain many stacking faults. The photoluminescence of the former is significantly brighter and sharper. The spectra of single, dispersed, self-induced NWs contain extremely sharp excitonic lines. Significant emission is caused by excitons bound to donors close to the surface whose binding energy is reduced compared to the bulk value. In comparison, both the microstructure and optical properties of the self-induced NWs are superior. The limited material quality of the collector-induced NWs can be explained by detrimental effects of the collector.