This issue is rooted in the 37th New Phytologist Symposium on ‘Plant developmental evolution’, 2016, that gathered researchers working on the developing field of plant evo-devo. The issue is a wonderful compendium of work presented during the symposium and the contribution of other researchers working in the field. The papers discuss and present work that sheds light on the molecular mechanisms involved in development and the evolution of new traits, from leaf and flower morphologies, to vasculature and other plant tissues of early plants. For proper organ development, cells gain their identity early on, commanded by several genetic networks. The environment in which plants find themselves also has a say—plant-environment interactions can determine developmental and physiological responses within their lifetime and across generations. How plants get to those environments is also relevant as they could evolve mechanisms that let them reach long distances by themselves or with the help (and sometimes manipulating the attraction) of diverse pollinators. In the end, the final goal for plants would be to adapt their life cycles to selective environments, and we still need more information to finally disentangle the evolutionary mechanisms involved. (Summary by Gaby Auge). New Phytol. Volume 216, Issue 2.