The development of the tassel and the ear shoot has been investigated in corn (Zea mays L.). X irradiation of dry kernels and seedlings heterozygous for anthocyanin markers or for factors altering tassel and ear morphology results in the formation of clones (sectors) from cells of the apical meristem. Most tassels develop from 4 +/- 1 cells of the mature embryo. The expression of ramosa-1, tunicate, tassel seed-6, and vestigial is cell autonomous in the tassel. These genes act late in development and modify the developmental fate or decision of an individual clone and not of the whole group of cells producing a tassel. The ear shoot develops from lineages of one to three cells derived each from the L-I (outmost cell layer) and L-II (second cell layer) of the apical meristem. Typically the clones start in the ear shoot (in the husks and possibly in the cob), extend upward in an internode, continue along the margin of the leaf sheath or leaf blade at the node above, and terminate in this or the next higher leaf. The separation of lineages for ear shoot and internode occurs in the period around 13 days after sowing. The analysis of clonal boundaries shows that a small number of embryonic cells become isolated in their developmental capacity. This commitment process appears to be analogous to the process of compartmentation in the imaginal disks of fruit flies. The extent of proliferation of individual cells within a group of highly flexible and any particular clone does not generate a specific part of a tassel or an ear shoot. There must be cellular communication between various clones so that the overall size and morphology of an organ remain normal and more or less fixed. Thus the process of development in plants is also highly regulative in nature and shares many features in common with development in fruit flies.