Vegetative phase change is the developmental transition from the juvenile phase to the adult phase in which a plant becomes competent for sexual reproduction. The gain of ability to flower is often accompanied by changes in patterns of differentiation in newly forming vegetative organs. In maize, juvenile leaves differ from adult leaves in morphology, anatomy and cell wall composition. Whereas the normal sequence of juvenile followed by adult is repeated with every sexual generation, this sequence can be altered in maize by the isolation and culture of the shoot apex from an adult phase plant: an ‘adult’ meristem so treated reverts to forming juvenile vegetative organs. To begin to unravel the as-yet poorly understood molecular mechanisms underlying phase change in maize, we compared gene expression in two juvenile sample types, leaf 4 and culture-derived leaves 3 or 4, with an adult sample type (leaf 9) using cDNA microarrays. All samples were leaf primordia at plastochron 6. A gene was scored as ‘phase induced’ if it was up- or downregulated in both juvenile sample types, compared with the adult sample type, with at least a twofold change in gene expression at a P-value of ≤0.005. Some 221 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) were upregulated in juveniles, and 28 ESTs were upregulated in adults. The largest class of juvenile-induced genes was comprised of those involved in photosynthesis, suggesting that maize plants are primed for energy production early in vegetative growth by the developmental induction of photosynthetic genes.