An accurate assessment of the rising ambient temperature by plant cells is crucial for the timely activation of various molecular defences before the appearance of heat damage. Recent findings have allowed a better understanding of the early cellular events that take place at the beginning of mild temperature rise, to timely express heat-shock proteins (HSPs), which will, in turn, confer thermotolerance to the plant. Here, we discuss the key components of the heat signalling pathway and suggest a model in which a primary sensory role is carried out by the plasma membrane and various secondary messengers, such as Ca2+ ions, nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). We also describe the role of downstream components, such as calmodulins, mitogen-activated protein kinases and Hsp90, in the activation of heat-shock transcription factors (HSFs). The data gathered for land plants suggest that, following temperature elevation, the heat signal is probably transduced by several pathways that will, however, coalesce into the final activation of HSFs, the expression of HSPs and the onset of cellular thermotolerance.