Cell shape in most eubacteria is maintained by a tough external peptidoglycan cell wall. Recently, cell shape determining proteins of the MreB family were shown to form helical, actin-like cables in the cell. We used a fluorescent derivative of the antibiotic vancomycin as a probe for nascent peptidoglycan synthesis in unfixed cells of various Gram-positive bacteria. In the rod-shaped bacterium B. subtilis, synthesis of the cylindrical part of the cell wall occurs in a helical pattern governed by an MreB homolog, Mbl. However, a few rod-shaped bacteria have no MreB system. Here, a rod-like shape can be achieved by a completely different mechanism based on use of polar growth zones derived from the division machinery. These results provide insights into the diverse molecular strategies used by bacteria to control their cellular morphology, as well as suggesting ways in which these strategies may impact on growth rates and cell envelope structure.