1. Evolution in plants has favored both a simpler body plan with fewer cell types and the epigenetic flexibility to regenerate, via growth, dedifferentiation, and redifferentiation, to recover from environmental insults. It has become increasingly apparent that a plant cell uses external signals to differentiate and to maintain or to change the differentiated state. A cell-cell signaling and positional information strategy seems to be the predominant mechanism employed in plant development. 2. An axis can be initiated by physical/chemical forces such as light and ion current, requiring no new gene action. Random chemical fluctuations and physicochemical forces could explain the initiation of differences among cells of equal developmental potential. Amplification of chemical polarizing events may lead to biochemical differences, new gene expression, and finally shoot/root axis establishment. 3. Radial and axial patterning may be governed by a mechanism involving polar auxin transport. 4. Because the meristems and the three fundamental tissues formed during embryogenesis are renewed and extended throughout the life of the plant, with some exceptions, most genes expressed in the embryo are also expressed during postgermination development. 5. Embryogenic competence is acquired during reproductive development. While the zygote is determined for embryogenesis, the developing embryo and often the seedling remain embryogenic. Embryogenic potential declines during vegetative development. The embryogenic strength of a tissue is correlated with its developmental distance from the zygote.