The molecular and genetic control of inflorescence and flower development has been studied in great detail in model dicotyledonous plants such as Arabidopsis and Antirrhinum. In contrast, little is known about these important developmental steps in monocotyledonous species. Here we report the analysis of the Zea mays mutant branched silkless 1-2 (bd1-2), allelic to bd1, which we have used as a tool to study the transition from spikelet to floret development in maize. Floret development is blocked in the female inflorescence (the ear) of bd1-2 plants, whereas florets develop almost normally in the male inflorescence (the tassel). Detailed phenotypic analyses indicate that in bd1-2 mutants ear inflorescence formation initiates normally, however, the spikelet meristems do not proceed to form floret meristems. The ear spikelets, at anthesis, contain various numbers of spikelet-like meristems and glume-like structures. Furthermore, growth of branches from the base of the ear is often observed. Expression analyses show that the floral-specific MADS box genes Zea mays AGAMOUS1 (ZAG1), ZAG2 and Zea mays MADS 2 (ZMM2) are not expressed in ear florets in bd1-2 mutants, whereas their expression in tassel florets is similar to that of wild type. Taken together, these data indicate that the development from spikelet to floret meristem is differentially controlled in the ear and tassel in the monoecious grass species Zea mays, and that BRANCHED SILKLESS plays an important role in regulating the transition from spikelet meristem to floral meristem during the development of the female inflorescence of maize.