Adaptation to environmental changes is crucial for plant growth and survival. However, the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of adaptation are still poorly understood and the signaling pathways involved remain elusive. Active oxygen species (AOS) have been proposed as a central component of plant adaptation to both biotic and abiotic stresses. Under such conditions, AOS may play two very different roles: exacerbating damage or signaling the activation of defense responses. Such a dual function was first described in pathogenesis but has also recently been demonstrated during several abiotic stress responses. To allow for these different roles, cellular levels of AOS must be tightly controlled. The numerous AOS sources and a complex system of oxidant scavengers provide the flexibility necessary for these functions. This review discusses the dual action of AOS during plant stress responses.