PaHB1 (for Picea abies Homeobox1), an evolutionarily conserved HD-GL2 homeobox gene, specifically expressed in the protoderm during somatic embryogenesis in the gymnosperm Norway spruce has been reported previously. An additional HD-GL2 gene designated PaHB2 is reported here. During somatic embryogenesis, the PaHB2 gene is uniformly ex pressed in proembryogenic masses and in early somatic embryos, but it is not detectably transcribed at the beginning of maturation. In mature embryos, PaHB2 expression was essentially detected in the outermost layer of the cortex and the root cap. A similar PaHB2 expression is detected post-embryonically in both the primary root and the hypocotyl. Phylogenetic reconstructions and intron pattern analyses revealed that the PAHB proteins fall within two distinct subclasses comprising highly similar angiosperm homologues. The PAHB1 subclass consists of protoderm/epiderm-specific members. By contrast, the PAHB2 subclass gathers homologues with a subepidermal and protodermal/epidermal activity. This study suggests that at least two distinct HD-GL2 genes with a layer-specific expression already existed in the last common ancestor of angiosperms and gymnosperms. The conserved protodermal/epidermal and subepidermal expression of HD-GL2 genes could be used to study embryo radial pattern formation across seed plants.