Members of the class 1 knotted-like homeobox (KNOX) gene family are important regulators of shoot apical meristem development in angiosperms. To determine whether they function similarly in seedless plants, three KNOX genes (two class 1 genes and one class 2 gene) from the fern Ceratopteris richardii were characterized. Expression of both class 1 genes was detected in the shoot apical cell, leaf primordia, marginal part of the leaves, and vascular bundles by in situ hybridization, a pattern that closely resembles that of class 1 KNOX genes in angiosperms with compound leaves. The fern class 2 gene was expressed in all sporophyte tissues examined, which is characteristic of class 2 gene expression in angiosperms. All three CRKNOX genes were not detected in gametophyte tissues by RNA gel blot analysis. Arabidopsis plants overexpressing the fern class 1 genes resembled plants that overexpress seed plant class 1 KNOX genes in leaf morphology. Ectopic expression of the class 2 gene in Arabidopsis did not result in any unusual phenotypes. Taken together with phylogenetic analysis, our results suggest that (a) the class 1 and 2 KNOX genes diverged prior to the divergence of fern and seed plant lineages, (b) the class 1 KNOX genes function similarly in seed plant and fern sporophyte meristem development despite their differences in structure, (c) KNOX gene expression is not required for the development of the fern gametophyte, and (d) the sporophyte and gametophyte meristems of ferns are not regulated by the same developmental mechanisms at the molecular level.