A set of MADS-box genes in flowering plants encode transcription factors that control both flower meristem formation and organ identity in the developing flower. In this report we present the first documentation of the presence of MADS-box genes in a non-flowering seed plant, and indeed from a plant bearing truly unisexual reproductive axes. A MADS-box-specific screening of a cDNA library from immature female strobili of the conifer Norway spruce, Picea abies (L.) Karst, resulted in cDNA clones that correspond to three different deficiens-agamous-like (dal) genes, dal1, dal2 and dal3. In addition to the MADS box, the spruce genes contain a second sequence element conserved among angiosperm genes, the K box, which is located downstream to the MADS box. A phylogenetic analysis of the nucleotide sequences confirms common ancestry of the gene superfamily. dal1 is related to agl2, agl4 and agl6 from Arabidopsis thaliana, all genes with unknown functions, and is expressed in vegetative as well as reproductive shoots on the adult spruce tree. dal2 is sister to angiosperm genes that control the identity of sexual organs, and is expressed only in the developing male and female strobili. dal3 is related to the vegetatively expressed tomato gene tm3 and is transcribed in both vegetative and reproductive shoots. These results strongly suggest that the functional and structural complexity within the MADS-box superfamily of reproduction-control genes is an ancestral property of seed plants and not a novelty in the angiosperm lineage.