Leaves are made in an iterative pattern by the shoot apical meristem. The mechanism of this pattern formation has fascinated biologists, mathematicians and poets for centuries. Over the past year, fundamental insights into the molecular basis of this process have been gained. Patterns of auxin polar transport dictate when and where new leaf primordia are formed on the surface of the apical meristem. Subsequent events are still obscure but appear to involve both alteration of cell wall characteristics (to facilitate a new vector of growth) and a cascade of spatially co-ordinated transcription factor activity (to determine the fate of cells that are incorporated into new lateral organs). The co-ordinated signalling events involved in these processes are beginning to be elucidated.