Sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome revealed a unique complexity of the plant heat stress transcription factor (Hsf) family. By structural characteristics and phylogenetic comparison, the 21 representatives are assigned to 3 classes and 14 groups. Particularly striking is the finding of a new class of Hsfs (AtHsfC1) closely related to Hsf1 from rice and to Hsfs identified from frequently found expressed sequence tags of tomato, potato, barley, and soybean. Evidently, this new type of Hsf is well expressed in different plant tissues. Besides the DNA binding and oligomerization domains (HR-A/B region), we identified other functional modules of Arabidopsis Hsfs by sequence comparison with the well-characterized tomato Hsfs. These are putative motifs for nuclear import and export and transcriptional activation (AHA motifs). There is intriguing flexibility of size and sequence in certain parts of the otherwise strongly conserved N-terminal half of these Hsfs. We have speculated about possible exon-intron borders in this region in the ancient precursor gene of plant Hsfs, similar to the exon-intron structure of the present mammalian Hsf-encoding genes.