Establishment of the shoot apical meristem (SAM) in Arabidopsis embryos requires the KNOXI transcription factor SHOOT MERISTEMLESS. In Norway spruce (Picea abies), four KNOXI family members (HBK1, HBK2, HBK3 and HBK4) have been identified, but a corresponding role in SAM development has not been demonstrated. As a first step to differentiate between the functions of the four Norway spruce HBK genes, we have here analyzed their expression profiles during the process of somatic embryo development. This was made both under normal embryo development and under conditions of reduced SAM formation by treatment with the polar auxin transport inhibitor NPA. Concomitantly with the formation of an embryonic SAM, the HBK2 and HBK4 genes displayed a significant up-regulation that was delayed by NPA treatment. In contrast, HBK1 and HBK3 were up-regulated prior to SAM formation, and their temporal expression was not affected by NPA. Ectopic expression of the four HBK genes in transgenic Arabidopsis plants further supported similar functions of HBK2 and HBK4, distinct from those of HBK1 and HBK3. Together, the results suggest that HBK2 and HBK4 exert similar functions related to the SAM differentiation and somatic embryo development in Norway spruce, while HBK1 and HBK3 have more general functions during embryo development.