Wnts are evolutionarily conserved secreted signalling proteins that, in various developmental contexts, spread from their site of synthesis to form a gradient and activate target-gene expression at a distance. However, the requirement for Wnts to spread has never been directly tested. Here we used genome engineering to replace the endogenous wingless gene, which encodes the main Drosophila Wnt, with one that expresses a membrane-tethered form of the protein. Surprisingly, the resulting flies were viable and produced normally patterned appendages of nearly the right size, albeit with a delay. We show that, in the prospective wing, prolonged wingless transcription followed by memory of earlier signalling allows persistent expression of relevant target genes. We suggest therefore that the spread of Wingless is dispensable for patterning and growth even though it probably contributes to increasing cell proliferation.