Higher plant species diverged extensively with regard to the moment (flowering time) and position (inflorescence architecture) at which flowers are formed. This seems largely caused by variation in the expression patterns of conserved genes that specify floral meristem identity (FMI), rather than changes in the encoded proteins. Here, we report a functional comparison of the promoters of homologous FMI genes from Arabidopsis, petunia, tomato and Antirrhinum. Analysis of promoter-reporter constructs in petunia and Arabidopsis, as well as complementation experiments, showed that the divergent expression of LEAFY (LFY) and the petunia homolog ABERRANT LEAF AND FLOWER (ALF) results from alterations in the upstream regulatory network rather than cis-regulatory changes. The divergent expression of UNUSUAL FLORAL ORGANS (UFO) from Arabidopsis, and the petunia homolog DOUBLE TOP (DOT), however, is caused by the loss or gain of cis-regulatory promoter elements, which respond to trans-acting factors that are expressed in similar patterns in both species. Introduction of pUFO:UFO causes no obvious defects in Arabidopsis, but in petunia it causes the precocious and ectopic formation of flowers. This provides an example of how a change in a cis-regulatory region can account for a change in the plant body plan.