We have generated a novel genetic system to visualize cell lineages in living tissues at high resolution. Heat shock was used to trigger the excision of a specific transposon and activation of a fluorescent marker gene. A histone-YFP marker was used to allow identification of cell lineages and easy counting of cells. Constitutive expression of a green fluorescent membrane protein was used to provide a precise outline of all surrounding cells. Marked lineages can be induced from specific cells within the organism by targeted laser irradiation, and the fate of the marked cells can be followed non-invasively. We have used the system to map cell lineages originating from the initials of primary and lateral roots in Arabidopsis. The lineage marking technique enabled us to measure the differential contribution of primary root pericycle cell files to developing lateral root primordia. The majority of cells in an emerging lateral root primordium derive from the central file of pericycle founder cells while off-centre founder cells contribute only a minor proliferation of tissue near the base of the root. The system shows great promise for the detailed study of cell division during morphogenesis.