Axis formation and patterning are fundamental processes establishing the body organization of multicellular organisms. In plants, patterning is not confined to embryogenesis but continues to produce new structures--lateral organs--along the growing primary body axis and also initiates secondary body axes. The signalling molecule auxin has been identified as a key player in plant axial patterning. The shoot and root sections of the axis seem to produce lateral organs in different ways. However, very recent findings suggest a general mechanism of branching triggered by local accumulation of auxin in a 'zone of competence' at the margin of stem-cell systems. How the general auxin signal is converted into organ-specific developmental programs remains a major challenge for the future.