Retrotransposons are major components of plant and animal genomes. They amplify by reverse transcription and reintegration into the host genome but their activity is usually epigenetically silenced. In plants, genomic copies of retrotransposons are typically associated with repressive chromatin modifications installed and maintained by RNA-directed DNA methylation. To escape this tight control, retrotransposons employ various strategies to avoid epigenetic silencing. Here we describe the mechanism developed by ONSEN, an LTR-copia type retrotransposon in Arabidopsis thaliana. ONSEN has acquired a heat-responsive element recognized by plant-derived heat stress defense factors, resulting in transcription and production of full length extrachromosomal DNA under elevated temperatures. Further, the ONSEN promoter is free of CG and CHG sites, and the reduction of DNA methylation at the CHH sites is not sufficient to activate the element. Since dividing cells have a more pronounced heat response, the extrachromosomal ONSEN DNA, capable of reintegrating into the genome, accumulates preferentially in the meristematic tissue of the shoot. The recruitment of a major plant heat shock transcription factor in periods of heat stress exploits the plant's heat stress response to achieve the transposon's activation, making it impossible for the host to respond appropriately to stress without losing control over the invader.