Most floral meristem and organ identity genes of dicotyledonous plants belong to the MADS box gene family. Since they are generally transcribed in those tissues and organs whose identity they determine, they are excellent markers for developmental processes. Here we report the cDNA cloning of a pair of MADS box genes, ZMM8 and ZMM14, from the monocotyledonous plant maize. Maize inflorescences are composed of spikelets which contain two florets, an upper and a lower one. Although upper and lower florets develop in a very similar way in male inflorescences, ZMM8 and ZMM14 expression was found in all organs of upper florets, but no transcripts were detected in lower florets. In contrast, two other MADS box genes were found to be expressed in lower florets in the same way as in upper florets. Our observations suggest that during spikelet development ZMM8 and ZMM14 work as selector genes which are involved in distinguishing the upper from the lower floret. Alternatively, these genes may be involved in conferring determinacy to the spikelet or upper floret meristem. Our data suggest that in the phylogenetic lineage that led to maize an ancient type of MADS box gene has been recruited during evolution for the establishment of novel positional information not found within the simple inflorescences of dicotyledonous plants such as Arabidopsis.