In Arabidopsis, the root meristem originates from the hypophyseal cell and from an adjoining cell tier that is distinct at the heart stage of embryogenesis. We have analysed mutations in the HOBBIT (HBT) gene that is essential for root meristem formation. hbt embryos display incorrect hypophyseal cell development from the quadrant stage onward. At the heart stage, the adjoining cell tier of hbt embryos develops abnormally, in that the activation of cell division and the formation of a lateral root cap layer are disturbed. Strong hbt mutants give rise to seedlings that lack an anatomically recognisable quiescent centre and differentiated columella root cap cells, the cell types derived from the wild-type hypophysis. Furthermore, they have no mitotically active root meristem and lack a differentiated lateral root cap. Secondary roots of hbt mutants and roots obtained from cultured cells of hbt mutants have similar defects. Therefore the HBT gene is required for root meristem formation in different developmental contexts.