Higher plants elaborate much of their architecture post-embryonically through development initiated at the tips of shoots. During vegetative growth, leaf primordia arise at predictable sites to give characteristic leaf arrangements, or phyllotaxies. How these sites are determined is a long-standing question that bears on the nature of pattern-formation mechanisms in plants. Fate-mapping studies in several species indicate that each leaf primordium becomes organized from a group of 100-200 cells on the flank of the shoot apex. Although molecular studies indicate that the regulated expression of specific homeobox genes plays some part in this determination process, mechanisms that regulate the timing and position of leaf initiation are less well understood. Here we describe a gene from maize, terminal ear 1. Patterns of expression of this gene in the shoot and phenotypes of mutants indicate a role for terminal ear 1 in regulating leaf initiation. The tel gene product contains conserved RNA-binding motifs, indicating that it may function through an RNA-binding activity.