A single plant produces several different types of leaves or leaf-like organs during its life span. This phenomenon, which is termed heteroblasty, is an invariant feature of shoot development but is also regulated by environmental factors that affect the physiology of the plant. Invariant patterns of heteroblastic development reflect global changes in the developmental status of the shoot, such as the progression from embryogenesis through juvenile and adult phases of vegetative development, culminating in the production of reproductive structures. Genes that regulate these phase-specific aspects of leaf identity have been identified by mutational analysis in both maize and Arabidopsis. These mutations have revealed that leaf production is regulated independently of leaf identity, implying that the identity of a leaf at a particular position on the shoot may depend on when the leaf was initiated in relation to a temporal program of shoot development.