The homeobox is a 180 bp consensus DNA sequence present in a number of genes involved in developmental processes. This review focuses on the structure and function of plant homeobox genes and of the proteins they encode. Plant homeobox genes have been identified in studies using mutants, degenerate oligonucleotides deduced from conserved sequences, differential screening or binding to known promoters. According to sequence conservation, plant homeoboxes can be subdivided into different families, each comprising several members. Evolutionary studies indicate that the different families have diverged prior to the separation of the branches leading to animals, plants and fungi. Accordingly, members of different families show characteristic structural and functional properties. As an example, kn1-like genes seem to be involved in different aspects of the control of cell fate determination in the shoot meristem; HD-Zip genes, which encode proteins containing a leucine zipper motif adjacent to the homeodomain, are believed to operate at later stages of development; and gl2-like genes are involved in epidermal cell differentiation. Future studies should be oriented to discern the precise function of the many homeobox genes present in plant genomes, and to evaluate their use as modifiers of plant development.