Polycomb group (PcG) proteins play essential roles in animal and plant life cycles by controlling the expression of important developmental regulators. These structurally heterogeneous proteins form multimeric protein complexes that control higher order chromatin structure and, thereby, the expression state of their target genes. Once established, PcG proteins maintain silent gene expression states over many cell divisions providing a molecular basis for a cellular 'memory.' PcG proteins are best known for their role in the control of homeotic genes in Drosophila and mammals. In addition, they play important roles in the control of cell proliferation in vertebrate and invertebrate systems. Recent studies in plants have shown that PcG proteins regulate diverse developmental processes and, as in animals, they affect both homeotic gene expression and cell proliferation. Thus, the function of PcG proteins has been widely conserved between the plant and animal kingdoms.