The timing of flower initiation is a highly plastic developmental process. To achieve reproductive success, plants must select the most favourable season to initiate reproductive development; this in turn requires continuous monitoring of environmental factors and a properly response. Environmental factors which change in a predictable fashion along the year, such as light and temperature, are the most relevant in terms of selection of the flowering season. In Arabidopsis and more recently in a few other species, molecular genetic analyses are providing a way to identify the genes involved in the regulation of flowering time. From gene sequences it is possible to develop hypotheses regarding molecular function and to infer some of the molecular mechanisms involved in the environmental regulation of flowering time. In this paper, we summarize recent discoveries concerning the mechanisms which plants use to perceive and respond to major environmental factors (light and temperature) and their different components. We focus mainly on annual plants and especially on Arabidopsis because most of the available molecular and functional data come from this species. However, additional information arising from other plant systems is also considered.