Plants have evolved overlapping but distinct cellular responses to different aspects of high temperature stress. These responses include basal thermotolerance, short- and long-term acquired thermotolerance, and thermotolerance to moderately high temperatures. This 'thermotolerance diversity' means that multiple phenotypic assays are essential for fully describing the functions of genes involved in heat stress responses. A large number of genes with potential roles in heat stress responses have been identified using genetic screens and genome wide expression studies. We examine the range of phenotypic assays that have been used to characterize thermotolerance phenotypes in both Arabidopsis and crop plants. Three major variables differentiate thermotolerance assays: (1) the heat stress regime used, (2) the developmental stage of the plants being studied, and (3) the actual phenotype which is scored. Consideration of these variables will be essential for deepening our understanding of the molecular genetics of plant thermotolerance.