Root formation in plants involves the continuous interpretation of positional cues. Physiological studies have linked root formation to auxins. An auxin response element displays a maximum in the Arabidopsis root and we investigate its developmental significance. Auxin response mutants reduce the maximum or its perception, and interfere with distal root patterning. Polar auxin transport mutants affect its localization and distal pattern. Polar auxin transport inhibitors cause dramatic relocalization of the maximum, and associated changes in pattern and polarity. Auxin application and laser ablations correlate root pattern with a maximum adjacent to the vascular bundle. Our data indicate that an auxin maximum at a vascular boundary establishes a distal organizer in the root.