C4 photosynthesis outperforms the ancestral C3 state in a wide range of natural and agro-ecosystems by affording higher water-use and nitrogen-use efficiencies. It therefore represents a prime target for engineering novel, high-yielding crops by introducing the trait into C3 backgrounds. However, the genetic architecture of C4 photosynthesis remains largely unknown. To define the divergence in gene expression modules between C3 and C4 photosynthesis during leaf ontogeny, we generated comprehensive transcriptome atlases of two Cleomaceae species, Gynandropsis gynandra (C4) and Tarenaya hassleriana (C3), by RNA sequencing. Overall, the gene expression profiles appear remarkably similar between the C3 and C4 species. We found that known C4 genes were recruited to photosynthesis from different expression domains in C3, including typical housekeeping gene expression patterns in various tissues as well as individual heterotrophic tissues. Furthermore, we identified a structure-related module recruited from the C3 root. Comparison of gene expression patterns with anatomy during leaf ontogeny provided insight into genetic features of Kranz anatomy. Altered expression of developmental factors and cell cycle genes is associated with a higher degree of endoreduplication in enlarged C4 bundle sheath cells. A delay in mesophyll differentiation apparent both in the leaf anatomy and the transcriptome allows for extended vein formation in the C4 leaf.