Plants can grow complex and elaborate structures, in some species for thousands of years. Despite the diversity in form and shape, plants are built from a limited number of fundamental tissue types, and their arrangement is deeply conserved in the plant kingdom. A key question in biology is how these fundamental tissues, i.e. epidermal, ground and vascular tissue, are specified and organized in time and space. In the present paper, I discuss the use of the early Arabidopsis embryo as a model system to dissect the control of tissue formation and patterning, as well as the specification of the stem cells that sustain post-embryonic growth. I present recent insights into the molecules and mechanisms that control both the specification and the subsequent growth of the different cell types within the embryonic root. Finally, I discuss major unanswered questions and future challenges in using the embryo as a model to decipher the regulatory logic of plant development.

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